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EL ESPECTADOR

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

-OpEd-

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?

cannabis_colombia_legalcannabis_value_economy_poverty

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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