Surprisingly, in the face of the operational pressures associated with Canada’s looming date of cannabis normalization, the household names of the Canadian market are suddenly shifting focus to Colombia.
Seemingly overnight, the South American country once noted for cocaine kingpins and a decades-long guerilla uprising created an advanced cannabis legislative environment –- one focused on cannabinoid oils -– with a focus on turning past challenge into future opportunity.
Colombia has propelled itself into a position of global leadership that has attracted Canada’s cannabis upper echelon, with names like Canopy Growth, Aurora Cannabis, and Aphria racing among others to establish a presence.
What started this whole frenzy and how could this have happened? Well, a Canadian helped birth and is now nurturing the Colombian industry.
Canadian entrepreneur Anthony Wile, while researching and writing his 2013 book Financial Freedom, foresaw the global expansion of the then-nascent cannabis industry.
Having lived and worked part-time in Colombia over the previous 16 years, Wile recognized the perfect environmental conditions the equatorial nation offered for flower cultivation and also the positive economic and business direction under the Uribe administration.
Applying knowledge gained from exposure to the early days of Canada’s cannabis sector, Wile returned to Colombia confident of the advantage the equatorial region held over more northern climates and spoke with leaders of Colombia’s renowned global cut-flower industry about why cultivation of the cannabis flower makes sense for the nation.
Daily 12-hour light cycles, moderate temperatures, abundant water, fertile soil, and fully developed infrastructure with multi-generational expertise as the world’s leading flower producing nation made Colombia ideal. Promising a cost structure of less than five cents per gram versus the $1.50 per gram targeted in artificial northern environments was especially appealing when combined with the environmentally sound production techniques consumers demand.
When it comes to cannabis, Colombia needs no introduction, with world-renowned strains including Colombian Gold, Mango Biche and Punto Rojo going back generations.
Wile knew that with the right legislation, regulation, security and leadership support, Colombia could quickly take the leading position in medicinal and scientific cannabis in the burgeoning global marketplace. While there was some skepticism about converting the plague of reputational negativity associated with the global drug war into a positive contributor, some within the cut-flower industry realized the opportunity before them.
Together with Federico Cock-Correa, a seasoned Colombian businessman with over 30 years’ leadership in the flower industry, Wile launched a new company “PharmaCielo” (roughly translated as medicine from the heavens), with the tagline, “It’s the Natural Choice.”
By November 2017, the Colombian government had put the necessary legislation and regulations in place, and PharmaCielo had successfully raised about $50 million, and brought notable leadership to the helm, combining management expertise gained from corporations including Bayer Material Science, Philip Morris International, and Loblaw, with medical expertise from team members and physicians who served diverse global pharmaceutical companies and public health organizations including the World Medical Association and World Health Organization.
The first to receive licensing for processing of cannabinoid oil extracts, followed by licensing and approvals for the cultivation of both CBD and THC dominant strains, the company has continually been recognized as the Colombian industry leader,setting the bar high for subsequent participants.
Early on Wile and Cock-Correa recognized that an essential element to success in Colombia was the willingness to embrace government policies designed to encourage the development of thriving local economies in regions of the country where indigenous peoples and campesinos (peasant farmers) alike had been displaced by 52 years of civil conflict.
Featured widely in global media coverage, PharmaCielo subsequently established a joint venture in the mountainous Cauca region where the climate encouraged the cultivation of unique strains and the proceeds would be equally shared among the local community, noting that further similar initiatives are under discussion.
Today, PharmaCielo has raised nearly $100 million and is in the RTO process to list in Canada. Wile, now CEO, is flanked by a world-class team of directors and officers, and in recognition of his contributions was granted Colombian citizenship under presidential decree earlier this year.
But where do PharmaCielo and Colombia go from here?
“Who knows?” Wile responded. “We’ll do our best to continue our mission to be the best we can be and among the leaders of this industry on a global basis. Absolutely we’re shooting for the first spot and certainly expect to continue to be leaders five to 10 years down the road to the benefit of Colombia as a whole.”
Full story is available here.