JOSÉ J. BITAR

Colombia 2020 | MEDICAL CANNABIS | VIP INTERVIEW

José J. Bitar is Executive President of Gaia Health. Gaia Health is upping the competition for Colombia's burgeoning cannabis industry with its use of cryogenesis and social responsibility initiatives.

Can you give us a short introduction to GAIA HEALTH?

GAIA HEALTH is a Colombian company licensed to produce cannabis derivatives for medical purposes. It is dedicated to cultivating, extracting, and developing high-quality products at affordable prices. The company was created with 100% Colombian capital and with a strategy that includes the highest quality standards with the objective of being one of the most competitive companies in the world in its class.

The medical cannabis industry is currently becoming quite competitive in the country and region. How does GAIA HEALTH differ its offerings to attract investment?

Located in Colombia's tropical area, GAIA benefits from optimal temperature and natural light that substantially reduces operating and labor costs and has proximity to ports, both maritime and air. A special mention must be made of the approval of the Vallejo Plan, a free zone that translates into significant tax and tariff benefits in comparison to other territories. Additionally, it provides social benefits such as employment, decent remuneration, and environmental rights for the region and its inhabitants. From a technical and technological point of view, GAIA leads in the implementation of the fully automated continuous extraction and processing process from harvest to distillation and crystallization, in line with EU GMP standards. Cryogenesis guarantees the preservation of biomass quality attributes, which are affected by conventional drying and storage techniques. We also have a team composed of technicians, professionals, and scientists focused on research, innovation, and development at every stage.

Could you explain cryogenesis a little more?

Through a process with liquid nitrogen, the trichomes of the total biomass are cryo-preserved at a temperature between minus 130 to minus 180 degrees Celsius, which guarantees the stability of the composition and percentages of cannabinoids present in the plant from harvest until extraction. The cryogenic separation of the trichomes reduces the need to manipulate large volumes of total biomass, taking only the trichome concentrate to the extraction process and thereby decreasing proportionally expenses and costs. With this technology, there is no need to dry the biomass, thereby making investments in equipment, infrastructure, and personnel for the drying process unnecessary. This technology is cost-effective, and the plant material obtained after the separation of trichomes is clean and ready for use in cannabis fiber-based by-products.

How are you contributing to the development of the communities where you have operations? How do you foresee the industry's impact on these regions and the country?

The Palmito municipality, where we have operations, was one of the areas most affected by armed conflict; poverty, fear, unemployment, and the lack of basic necessities were part of the daily life of its inhabitants. Today, we are contributing to change this reality; more than 80% of our employees are natives of this community. On the other hand, GAIA will contribute significantly to the increase of the annual municipal budget through taxes, which should be used in public works and policies. Within its structure, GAIA prioritizes social and environmental responsibility; we forecast the execution of short- and medium-term projects that contribute to the solution of needs such as potable water, education, and food. The development of this new industry in our country will positively impact the creation of new jobs and national and foreign investment. A significant increase is expected with respect to the short- and medium-term exports of these products and imports in equipment and supplies that will undoubtedly boost the economy. New technical and professional jobs will be created for the industry, along with a recovery of confidence in the agricultural sector. The medical cannabis industry offers an alternative, by replacing illicit crops with legal crops and well-paid jobs that can guarantee the livelihoods of peasant families. One of the objectives of the company is to provide technical assistance, supplies, and technology to small producers so that they can develop their crops optimally and guarantee the purchase of the crop.