Tired of living in fear of arrest or running afoul of drug traffickers, Romairo Aguirre is ready to destroy his illegal plantation of 1,500 marijuana bushes in the mountainous Cauca region of southwest Colombia and become legitimate. President Santos, who leaves office in August, passed a law two years ago legalizing medical cannabis for domestic use and export. It aims to take the marijuana trade from the hands of Marxist rebels and traffickers, transforming Colombia into a multibillion-dollar producer for the pharmaceutical industry. Andres Lopez, head of Colombia’s National Narcotics Fund that oversees use of legal narcotics, said it was putting in place its team to regulate the industry. The new law calls for rigorous testing to prevent illegal cannabis from entering the medical market. In time, growers estimate that the Andean nation could capture as much as one-fifth of a global market that could be worth $40 billion a year. That would be more than coal exports, and also more than exports of flowers, coffee and bananas combined. The new industry will not produce smokable marijuana but focus on oils, creams and inhalers produced in laboratories and personalized by prescription to each patient, he said. Growers say that production would be enough to treat pain and symptoms of some 4.5 million patients nationally and 60 million in Latin America suffering from conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. ... Pharmacielo, which has a 12-hectare operation in Rionegro, was the first company to receive a license in Colombia and Cock hopes to start commercial production by the end of the year - if the government gives final approval. With banks reluctant to lend to the nascent industry, Pharmacielo is in the process of listing on the Toronto stock exchange, pending regulatory approval.
PharmaCielo is paving the way for cannabis cultivation in Colombia. They are helping rural farming communities previously under the thumb of the exploitative guerrilla groups get into growing medical cannabis. In 2016, Colombia’s government finally struck a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla group, in a bid to de-escalate the country’s 53-year civil war. ... One Canadian company based in Toronto, PharmaCielo, was the very first to obtain Colombia’s comprehensive cultivation license after President Juan Manuel Santos enacted a law in late 2016 legalizing medical marijuana. The company currently runs its principal cultivation facility out of Rionegro, a small city roughly an hour outside of Medellin, Colombia. But last year, PharmaCielo also announced a partnership with Cooperativa Caucannabis, a collective of small, rural and indigenous cannabis cultivators. This partnership has the potential to legitimize and stimulate the once illicit economies of rural farming communities previously controlled by the country’s exploitative guerrilla groups and paramilitaries. The Colombian government, as part of their peace deal with the FARC, has offered grants to coca-farming families as part of a crop substitution program. Participating families receive food subsidies and other forms of assistance from the Colombian government. This program aims to scale back the production of coca, the raw material used to manufacture cocaine, a process which many rural farmers had long been extorted into helping with. Now, there are roughly 63 families who are participating in the collective with PharmaCielo.
Tens of thousands of Colombians died in the U.S.-backed war on drugs. But after an official about-face on marijuana, Colombia is looking to exchange gun-toting traffickers for corporate backers in a bid to become the Saudi Arabia of legal pot. The new industry is budding here on the outskirts of Medellin, where Pablo Escobar moved marijuana in the 1970s before becoming the “King of Cocaine.” Fifteen years after his death in a last stand with the law, cannabis plants are blooming in the emerald hills beyond the city, this time with the government’s blessing. “You are looking at history,” beamed Camilo Ospina, the lab-coat-wearing chief innovation officer for PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings, gesturing like a showman before a sprawling greenhouse of pungent cannabis plants. His company is one of a fast-rising number of corporations seeking to leverage the “made in Colombia” label in a new age of legalization. “Our advantage is that the Colombian brand already has a mystique,” he said. “We want to intensify that, so that the Colombian cannabis you already know — the Punto Rojo, the Colombian Gold — is the cannabis you want to buy.”
Decades have passed since the bulk of marijuana cultivation in the Americas shifted from Colombia up to Mexico. But the tides are turning again. This time, suited businesspeople, not drug cartels, are betting on a lucrative Colombian weed crop, bound for markets around the world. The investors? Many are coming from Canada. ... Growers in Colombia can cultivate cannabis year-round for a fraction of the cost paid by growers in Canada, or Washington State or Colorado, where they use warehouses, high-powered sun lamps, and climate control. “You could grow bananas in New York,” explains Patricio Stocker, CEO of PharmaCielo, another Toronto-based Colombian cannabis company. “But you need to generate a tropical climate.” PharmaCielo, which was founded on a gamble in 2014 before Colombia legalized cannabis production, has spent two years collecting cannabis breeds from rural farmers, breeds that once went to drug cartels and made Colombia’s reputation for high-grade illicit weed. “You have this country where you can find unique strains, historically used for medicinal and religious purposes by indigenous communities,” says Stocker, who was previously CEO of DaimlerChrysler Colombia. PharmaCielo began to register collected strains with Colombia’s Ministry of Health in December. The company board includes executives from Philip Morris, a former World Medical Association chairman, two Colombian flower growers and a Canadian retailer. It aims to export cannabis products, first to Canada and, later, elsewhere abroad. The company has planted its first crop throughout 30 acres of open-air greenhouses in Rionegro, a city in the hinterlands of Medellin. Nearby, PharmaCielo’s laboratory is geared up to produce the first medical extracts from its cannabis crop. Elsewhere in the country, the company has partnered with rural communities for cannabis cultivation and dreams of expanding its own operations to thousands of acres soon.
Colombia’s medical marijuana industry is continuing to develop rapidly, and industry experts predict the country’s producers will be ready to compete on the global stage by the end of this year. ... The Colombian medical marijuana market is widely considered to be ripe for business, and Canadian companies are lining up plans to combine Colombia’s favorable climate with Toronto’s capital and technological expertise. One of those companies is Toronto-headquartered PharmaCielo. “I know that 2018 will be a bellwether year for PharmaCielo and the Colombian industry as a whole,” Patricio Stocker, president and CEO of PharmaCielo, told Marijuana Business Daily. “Colombia’s natural assets as the global leader in medical cannabis production are being rapidly recognized, and we are receiving a steady stream of calls from the international market asking about production, supply and partnership.”
Colombia could supply 44% of the global demand for medicinal marijuana in 2018 after the board of directors of the country’s Drug Control Fund authorized the harvest of 40.5 tons of this plant for export-only proposes. In an interview with Caracol – a leading Colombian radio network – the director of the Fondo Nacional de Estupefacientes, Andrés López, claimed that Canada could become the first beneficiary of Colombian-grown medicinal marijuana, followed by Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Paraguay. . . . Demand for Colombian cannabis has already attracted trans-national pharmaceutical companies, including PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings, a subsidiary of the Canadian medicinal marijuana company PharmaCielo Ltd. In December, the Colombian subsidiary announced that it has begun the process of planting both psychoactive and non-psychoactive medicinal cannabis strains at a nursery centre in Rionegro, Antioquia. "As the only grower to receive the necessary quota approval from the Colombian government, we are very excited to know that we will have our very first planting completed by December 31,” said Federico Cock-Correa, CEO of PharmaCielo Colombia. . . . PharmaCielo’s nursery covers an area of 27.7 hectares with 12.1 hectares dedicated to open-air greenhouses. “We see a steady increase in interest from leading participants in today’s rapidly developing global cannabis marketplace, seeking to develop strategic partnerships with PharmaCielo to access high volumes of premium quality medicinal-grade cannabis oil extracts and related products,” added Dr. Patricio Stocker, President and CEO of PharmaCielo Ltd.
After obtaining the first comprehensive licenses for the cultivation of cannabis in the country, PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings announced that its ally Cooperativa Caucannabis received a special permit for the cultivation of psychoactive cannabis by the Ministry of Justice. Under this permit, the 63 peasants and producers that make up the company based in Cauca will begin to grow cannabis flowers to process oil extracts. For Federico Cock-Correa, CEO of PharmaCielo Colombia Holdings, "this inclusive approach that the government assumed is very significant, as it ensures that indigenous communities that have cultivated old vines can have their due place in the cannabis industry." ... Under this announcement, the indigenous and campesinos continue to rebuild their lives and the productivity of the region.
Canadian companies hope to cultivate a medical marijuana juggernaut in Colombia by combining Toronto’s capital and technological expertise with the Latin American nation’s favorable climate and location. Industry executives said they plan to use Colombia as a springboard to serve Latin America’s 400-plus million people who live in nations where some form of marijuana is legal. When high-THC medical cannabis becomes available nationwide next year in Colombia, the country is poised to become the second-largest federally regulated MMJ market in the world – behind Germany. Industry sources estimate its potential market at 3 million-6 million patients. PharmaCielo, headquartered in Toronto, envisions Colombia being the world’s top producer of medical marijuana oil. Using Toronto as its international base, the company plans to produce a large amount of organic MMJ oil in Colombia for international distribution, ultimately targeting around two dozen countries. ...
Vice talks to the CEO of PharmaCielo, who appeared on this week's "Weediquette." ... Colombia is at a crossroads. In November 2016, the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), bringing an end to decades of conflict. ... In Cauca—a verdant, mountainous region in southwest Colombia—PharmaCielo hopes to create positive change. The Canadian Colombian company has roots in the flower business, but for the past four years, its CEO, Federico Cock-Correa, has worked closely with the government to develop laws that will pave the way for legal medicinal cannabis cultivation. Correa speaks of PharmaCielo with a humanitarian bent, focusing on the company’s desire to aid Cauca’s farmers toward a more stable life. He talks benevolently about “the wellness of the people,” and while speaking with VICE, he was preparing to fly to the Caucua town of Corinto after a mudslide caused three fatalities. He prioritizes building up the impoverished province. ...
It wouldn’t be right to talk about Canada and international cannabis without mentioning PharmaCielo. This Canadian firm has deep roots growing in Colombian cannabis, and are they are the very first to do so in the South American nation.“[This] is an important undertaking for Colombia as a nation,” said spokesperson for PharmaCielo, David Gordon, in an interview with Marijuana.com. “The government down there has demonstrated real leadership in the [cannabis] space.” PharmaCielo is currently preparing to grow their crops in Colombia, with one of the goals being export to countries that have also legalized medical cannabis. “We are preparing for cultivation. It was [over] a year ago that PharmaCielo was the first recipient [in Colombia] of a license for the manufacture and processing. Since that time, we have commenced on developing the infrastructure to allow both manufacturing and processing, as well as to allow cultivation.”
In a July 13 story in Maclean’s, a Canadian national current affairs magazine, Brian Hutchinson, who spent time on the ground with PharmaCielo’s leadership team at the company’s operational headquarters in Rionegro, Colombia, writes, “The facility is Canadian-controlled, its Toronto-based parent company, PharmaCielo Ltd., run by a board of globe-trotting executives and investors, several of whom are from Big Tobacco and Pharma. But the heart of the operation is here in Colombia.” The government’s legalization of medicinal cannabis, he writes, means “Colombia is moving in step with other countries, recognizing that cannabis has medicinal and economic value, that it can be exploited and taxed just like any other commodity, such as cut flowers.” PharmaCielo Colombia COO Marcelo Siqueira explains, “The government believes Colombia has paid its price in blood and treasure with the war on drugs, that it’s time to move on.” The company has been granted a processing license and is now awaiting receipt of its cultivation permit. “Unlike other countries where dried marijuana flower is legally exchanged, Colombia has decided to allow only the sale of cannabis oil, for medicinal use inside the country, and for export to countries that allow it. [PharmaCielo’s crop] will be processed into oil, then shipped to markets inside the country and to legal markets around the world, including Canada.” PharmaCielo Ltd. president and CEO Patricio Stocker said the company plans to eventually produce cannabis from 1,000 hectares of Colombian farmland. To put this in perspective, MacLean’s notes that’s “enough to yield at least two million of kilograms of dried marijuana flower per year, and as much as 250,000 kilograms of oil,” and points out Colombia’s natural advantages for cannabis cultivation include a warm climate, abundant rainfall and 12 hours of daylight year-round. “Factor in low labour costs and the company figures it can produce dried flower at 10 cents a gram, one-tenth or better the cost of production in marijuana-friendly countries such as Canada, where plants are grown indoors – at great effort – by 50 federally-licensed companies for the legal medicinal market.” Siqueira adds: “The costs and the carbon footprint associated with cannabis production in Canada are absurd. It’s like growing coffee beans indoors. It can be done, but should it? Energy consumption, water diversion, pesticides, water contamination, these are already issues.”
With the appointment of PharmaCielo Ltd. Chairman Simon Langelier as a non-executive director, “Imperial Brands Plc gained the services of a leader in the field of medicinal cannabis as the British tobacco manufacturer seeks to further its push beyond cigarettes,” writes Bloomberg. Langelier joined PharmaCielo in 2015 after a 30-year career at Philip Morris International, which included heading up the next-generation products unit from 2007-2010. During that period he established a joint venture for the worldwide commercialization of Philip Morris’s smoke-free products. Bloomberg notes Langelier’s experience at PharmaCielo will be beneficial should Imperial choose to enter a future federally legal US cannabis market, which is projected to surpass $50 billion in sales this decade.
If illicit pot plants flourishing covertly in the Colombian countryside represent the marijuana industry’s past, then Canada’s commercial-scale medical licensing system represents its future. PharmaCielo Ltd., a privately held medical marijuana producer with global ambitions, is hoping to capitalize on both those traditions. The company, which has board members from U.S. big tobacco and big pharma, is headquartered in Canada — a decision made due to this country’s sophisticated medical cannabis regulations, friendly financial markets and growing base of accountants, lawyers and bankers with cannabis expertise. But for production, it’s focused on Colombia, where it is hoping to become the first government-approved marijuana producer following the country’s decades-long battle against drug trafficking. ... President Juan Maneul Santos legalized medical marijuana in 2015. PharmaCielo was the first company in Colombia to be granted an extraction licence, but it is still awaiting a cultivation licence — it is ready to grow as soon as that goes through and plans to start selling mid-2018
Colombia’s cannabis business was long overseen by the country’s largest rebel group, which dominated this region of Cauca, taxed its drugs and became internationally notorious for trafficking in billions of dollars in illicit substances. But when the government signed a peace deal with the fighters last year, the state swept in and reclaimed this remote mountain village, threatening to end the trade. But now, local citizens have an unlikely option: growing marijuana with the government’s blessing instead. A Canadian company called PharmaCielo, with the government’s approval, is working to produce the drug legally in Colombia and is looking to hire. It is an unorthodox experiment by Colombia, one that underscores the region’s changing attitudes toward drugs after decades of fighting them. In the coming weeks, the government says, it will begin processing licenses for a small number of companies, including PharmaCielo, under a 2015 law that allows the cultivation of medical marijuana. Rarely has a country taken an illegal drug overseen by a criminal organization and tried to replace it with the same crop produced legally, sold by corporations. “Here we have an entirely new opportunity,” said Alejandro Gaviria, Colombia’s health minister, whose agency is issuing the licenses. He argues legal drugs could become an important economic tool for postconflict Colombia. Federico Cock-Correa, who heads up PharmaCielo’s Colombia subsidiary and promises to pay his growers far more than what they earned during the war, said government officials were fascinated by the idea of using legal, medical cannabis as a tool for development once the rebels were out of the picture. The 2015 law allows medical marijuana cultivation for the domestic market and the export of medical marijuana products like oils and creams.
In Colombia … “The medical marijuana industry can become bigger than coffee, bigger than flowers,” said Patricio Stocker, CEO of PharmaCielo, the first company licensed to roll out production of medical marijuana in Colombia. “Our aim is to help the most [troubled] regions in the country [as] Colombia is getting out of a war and getting into a peace process,” he said. “It is not just developing the cannabis business. This will help generate funds to develop other businesses. Politicians and local communities want to develop the region and cannabis, combined with other agricultural activity, will take them out of poverty.”