COLOMBIA: MEDICAL CANNABIS MARKET LEADERS

Colombia 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Margarita Cabello Blanco, Minister of Justice and Law, on medical cannabis, adapting existing frameworks, and Colombia as a global leader in the market.

What steps have the Ministry taken to speed up the process to award new licenses in medical cannabis?

The Ministry of Justice and Law has been working on several actions to normalize the waiting time to obtain a license in their different modalities. Those actions range from the correct preparation of the physical archive for each request to the hiring of new personnel to evaluate each request. We have hired nearly 15 people, including documentation experts and lawyers, that have supported the process to award those licenses. We have gone through special working days to support each of the procedures related to the licensing process for some requests from 2018. As a result, we have been able to issue some licenses that allow the initiation of activities in an attempt to reduce the number of requests. The large number of requests was one of the challenges for our portfolio. Additionally, this Ministry has led training days for those people who submit a request, and also for those who have already filed their own requests in an attempt to reduce the error margin with requests. That can help us to speed up the revision and awarding process. We have also developed and implemented a mechanism for cannabis control (MICC by its Spanish acronym). The MICC includes certain control mechanisms, as well as follow-up tools.

What strategies have you implemented to guarantee legal security for those international companies interested in this industry in Colombia?

The government wants to modify the so-called decree 613, through which we are seeking to increase legal security through the strengthening of legal and technical requirements to obtain licenses. This is done not only to maintain control around cannabis harvest and production, but also to guarantee the profitability of foreign investment for the sake of the country itself. Additionally, the training provided to our public officials is seeking to provide them with tools to ensure they make the right decision, and thus minimize the number of possible mistakes during the entire process established to obtain a license. Right now, Colombia has one of the most robust and complete legal frameworks and has been acknowledged as such by the global industry. The new decree, which will be published soon, will increase that international prestige, which can be demonstrated with the experience we have gathered in the last three years through Act 1787 from 2016, which has allowed us to improve the rules of the game and boost the development of the cannabis industry.

What are your views on medical cannabis not just for the national economy, but also to position Colombia as a global leader in this market?

The interest of the industry in developing medical cannabis in the scientific and health sectors fills us with pride and obliges us to work every day to guarantee equal conditions for companies, in particular to support entrepreneurship for those who meet the security and quality conditions that the pharma industry require. This will allow them to maintain a good market position without forgetting the control that the government requires to develop such activities. As a government boosting the pharma industry, it has to lead us to be seen as global leaders thanks to the development of a product that has been stigmatized for years and today represents a good possibility for a sector that cannot only generate jobs, but also development and well-being for the entire society. I particularly consider that the cannabis sector must continue having the importance it has and is expected to have a significant impact in the country's economy. We want to support entrepreneurs and generate a healthy level of competition in the framework of equity in order to be seen as a large cannabis producer, but also the producers of a product of the highest quality. We expect this will attract more foreign investment. We must support the industry, but always respect the existing legal framework.

Medical cannabis is a growing industry in Colombia and many sectors including the government are going through a learning and adaptation process. What are the lessons you have gained in that time period?

Three years after the implementation of the Legislative Act 02 from 2009, we have experienced many experiences, among which we can highlight that it is necessary the continue study and training not only in legal areas, but also in technical parts and technological developments to be able to keep up the changing pace of this hectic industry. It was evidenced that the market needed to start through a research and development phase to become an industry that will end up manufacturing products that will cater into the market needs. In that sense, we have learned that this is a changing market and the decisions have to be made in short time periods at the most efficient manner possible, and we need to maintain a constant dialog among government entities and the industry to identify the needs and adopt the required regulatory changes. Also, we realized that the industry, as a general rule, quickly changes and regulation and the State cannot be left apart and must quickly readapt to real practice. Also, we need to adapt to new offers and proposals from the industry as long as they improve the regulatory framework and the environment in the private sector. That's why we are currently working on a decree to amend the current regulation and serve as a roadmap for the cannabis industry in the short and medium terms.