Workers prune marijuana plants at a Clever Leaves greenhouse in Pesca, Colombia. The company employs over 450 people. Courtesy of Clever Leaves hide caption
toggle caption Courtesy of Clever Leaves
Patricia Santiago and her family were forced to flee their home near Colombia’s Caribbean coast after complaining about neighborhood dope dealers who, in turn, threatened to kill them. But in an odd twist, Santiago now works in the drug trade — at a medical marijuana facility.
At first, Santiago felt like she was breaking the law as she pruned and clipped cannabis plants on a plantation run by a Colombian firm called Clever Leaves. However, the government legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and now Clever Leaves is exporting cannabis-based products to Canada and the United Kingdom.
Rather than a symbol of the country’s dark past of narco-fueled violence, Santiago smiles and says, Colombian drugs “can now be used to treat people.”
At least that’s the bet of a growing number of entrepreneurs who are building vast marijuana plantations and state-of-the-art pharmaceutical laboratories that produce everything from cannabis-based pain relievers for cancer patients to dog treats that act as calming agents.
Other countries are passing laws to permit the production, import and export of medical marijuana but Colombia has a leg up because it did so three years ago, says Rodrigo Arcila, president of the Colombian Cannabis Industry Association. He said the group’s 29 member companies have invested more than $600 million in building medical marijuana facilities.