Colombia has the perfect climate, landscape and geography to cultivate weed, not to mention its year-round, near-the-equator growing season.
After signing a peace deal with the country’s rebels-turned-drug-traffickers, thus ending a 50-year conflict, then kindly requesting that the United States stop spraying their coca and poppy fields, the Colombian government has a plan.
Having legalized medical marijuana, the Health Ministry is working with a Canadian-based company to grow weed in areas once controlled by the rebels, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
PharmaCielo, based in Toronto, is the first company in Colombia to receive a license from the government to manufacture cannabis products.
Colombia, which has received over $9 billion dollars in U.S. aid to eradicate the drug trade in the past two decades, will begin processing licenses for a small number of companies, including PharmaCielo.
According to its website, PharmaCielo is preparing to grow and process large volumes of premium cannabis into MMJ oil extracts and related products.
PharmaCielo’s directors include former executives from Philip Morris and Bayer, the corporate likes of which may not bode well for small farmers who fear getting pushed out by large companies.
The Colombian government says small farmers have nothing to fear.
“Colombia may be the winner of this emerging market of medicinal marijuana,” said Alejandro Gaviria Uribe, Colombia’s health minister. “This will result in more jobs in our country and greater prosperity for the communities and municipalities where this industry is situated.”
A New York Times report from Corinto, in the southwestern Cauca region, a weed-growing area that still has problems with paramilitaries bumping off human rights workers, included interviews from locals as well as PharmaCielo directors.
“The peasants were forced to produce these plants,” says Federico Cock-Correa, head of the Colombian subsidiary of PharmaCielo, who promises to pay his growers far more than what they earned during the war.
PharmaCielo’s Colombian headquarters are located on the farmlands outside of Medellín, Pablo Escobar’s former stomping grounds.
Cock-Correa told the NY Times that he’s new to the weed business. He built his career growing and exporting chrysanthemums to the United States, which he says is similar to growing weed.
While showing the NY Times the vast greenhouses ready to be used by PharmaCielo, the chrysanthemum king said the Colombian government will continue to eradicate coca leaves and marijuana grown in violation of the new law.
In visits to other parts of the country, the NY Times met people who were skeptical about the government and big business telling them how and how much weed to grow on their own private or communal land.
“What’s important here is we don’t go 500 years backward to the times where indigenous people were working for outsiders and marginalized,” said one man from Corinto, where two-thirds of the town’s 32,000 people rely on cannabis cultivation for a living.
Colombian Senator Jorge Iván Ospina, from the Green Alliance, made a video published by El Espectador in which he calls on the Healthy Ministry to grant licenses to farmers in the Corinto region who have been growing weed for many years rather than to a Canadian company.