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Colombia’s Rec Legalization Efforts Fall Short…Again

Cesar Gallegos

by Cesar Gallegos

March 30, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes
Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho
Colombia’s Rec Legalization Efforts Fall Short…Again

On December 22, 2014, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree legalizing medical cannabis. The move made Colombia one of the first Latin American countries to legalize medical use. Nevertheless, legal cannabis in Colombia isn’t as black and white as its residents may have hoped.

Speculation that recreational legalization was on the horizon attracted foreign investors, many from Canada, who salivated at the thought of making a quick profit. In total, foreign investors spent an estimated $500 million setting up cannabis grow houses.   

Cannabis in Colombia: A Gold Rush Turns Into Fool’s Gold

In the 10 years since foreign investors flooded into Colombia, little has changed — though not for lack of trying. December 2023 marked the 5th time that recreational legalization failed to pass the Senate.

Without local recreational sales to depend on, foreign investors are struggling to stay afloat. Around 200 companies closed in 2023, bringing the total number of closures to 600. This means nearly half of all companies founded since medical legalization are now out of business. 

Surviving businesses must now contend with a mandate coming into effect in February declaring that cannabis inventory over two years old is destroyed. One Canadian investor summed up the dire state of affairs for himself and other foreign businesses, saying: “We’re going from bad to worse, it’s slow agony, and the clock is going against us with pressure from partners and without cash flow.” The Candian investor said he is seeking a new investment to save his $20 million business set up in 2018.

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That said, medical cannabis is legal in Colombia, meaning these foreign investors could pivot to making medical products. So, what’s stopping them?

Foreign investors say that gaining approval to sell medical cannabis products requires meeting difficult regulatory demands and paying for expensive studies on their products’ medical composition. Colombia’s food and medicine regulator, INVIMA, says that in most cases, foreign investors complaining about the difficult approval process have submitted incomplete documentation. INVIMA added, “It is necessary to comply with established legal and technical requirements.”

Legislation Failed Locals, Not Investors

Lost amongst the media coverage surrounding the plight of foreign investors is the fact that Colombian locals are the ones hurting the most. 

Though Colombians are allowed to grow up to 20 plants and carry up to 20 grams of cannabis for personal use — selling is still illegal. Without legal sellers, the black market has, unsurprisingly, persisted. This means the country and region must continue grappling with the violence and bloodshed caused by America’s War on Drugs.

Opponents of recreational cannabis in Colombia say it will lead the country’s youth into an era of debauchery.” Those at the forefront of the legalization movement, like Senator María Pizarro, however, have something to say about those claims. 

In a message posted on X, Pizarro made it clear that those against legalization are holding the country back. Pizarro wrote, “The real people responsible for handing over youth to violent mafias are those who voted to file the project to regulate the commercialization of ADULT USE cannabis WITHOUT A SINGLE ARGUMENT. Shame.”

Pizzaro’s sentiments are echoed by new Colombian President Gustavo Petro. In September, President Petro suggested an alliance between Latin American countries to fight drug trafficking. He criticized the militarized approach that leaders in the region have taken towards the issue, saying it has caused ​​”…immeasurable bloodshed and pain in Latin America”.

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