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After Coca And Coffee, Legal Cannabis Can Take Colombia Higher

Local investors and entrepreneurs should learn from past mistakes to harvest the best results from the country's decision to authorize marijuana production.

A medical cannabis farm in Bogotá
A medical cannabis farm in Bogotá
Liliana Hernández


BOGOTÁ — The era of legal cannabis cultivation has begun in Colombia, but there's nothing new about the production model.

Like with sugar cane, coffee or flowers, big, private investors are putting money into producing the raw material — without much processing — so that it can then be exported to countries that have been doing research on the product for decades.

In the case of cannabis, Colombian producers simply cultivate the plant, harvest its flowers and elaborate base extracts with them. It's only after they're shipped abroad that the extracts are transformed into lucrative, value-added products that we Colombians will then have to import at prohibitively high costs.

There's much talk here about the "new opportunities' legal cannabis will provide. But what kind of opportunity are we really talking about? The opportunity to keep using a cheap workforce, both qualified and untrained? Does that really live up to the developmental promise touted in all this opportunity talk?


Colombia may benefit from higher aspiration in the cannabis business — Photo: Matteo Paganelli

The arguments used to boost the incipient cannabis business today are the same used for sugar cane in its day: namely that Colombia has no seasons, that producers can grow all year.

Seriously, is this the best defense that can be made of a productive project? May we never aspire to anything better than producing cheap raw material so that, as always, private capital in foreign countries can flourish and multiply in the best colonial style? Have we learned nothing from the lessons of the early 20th century with quinine, rubber, cocoa and, more recently, other farming products whose final days are now paving the way for a cannabis business?

Will this be our highest aspiration? Perpetuating poverty and backwardness because the people who make the important decisions in this country think we cannot do any better? And is that actually true? Or is it just what others have always wanted us to believe?

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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