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Eyes on Colombia: Trail Blazers

The country with the bad rap is paving the way for smart, safe medical cannabis in Latin America.

LET’S GET THIS out of the way: Colombia has a reputation. The idea that the poster state for narcotrafficking could lead Latin America towards an era of legal cannabis may seem counterintuitive to some.

“I grew up in a country with the drugs and Pablo Escobar and all of that,” said Dr. Maria-Fernanda Arboleda, a physician who is helping pioneer the use of cannabis as medicine in her home country and beyond.

Non-medical commercial sale of cannabis is still illegal but the stigmas around the plant aren’t as prevalent as in some neighboring countries that are now following Colombia’s lead on medical cannabis.

“After Colombia, we saw how Peru advanced medical cannabis with the opening of its first legal dispensary in 2021. Then Argentina and Brazil starting to advance. I would say Central America and Mexico are pretty far behind—Colombia is the clear leader right now,” Dr. Arboleda said.


Health Pioneers

Colombia is not just a leader in Latin America. The country is also setting cannabis standards for the world.

Starting on Jan. 1, the Colombian government mandated that all health insurance providers in the country cover the costs of medical cannabis prescriptions for policy holders. Colombia joins Germany and Czechia in implementing such a program.

Khiron Life Sciences (OTC: KHRNF) said its Zerenia medical cannabis clinics in Colombia expected big benefits from coverage for medical marijuana.

“Since becoming the first company to fill cannabis prescriptions in Colombia, 92 percent of our patients have reported an improvement in their primary conditions after four months of treatment with Khiron products,” said Alvaro Torres, CEO of Toronto, Canada-based Khiron.

Adds Dr. Arboleda: “For Colombia to be the country that started this in Latin America has been a challenge. At the same time, Colombia was the first to put in place infrastructure and access for medical cannabis.”

Country Fact File the Republic of Colombia

CAPITAL: Bogotá; GOVERNMENT: Unitary Presidential Republic;OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Spanish, English (in San Andrés and Providencia); dozens of Amerindian and Creole languages also spoken; GDP (PPP): US$351.3 billion (2022 est.); GDP PER CAPTITA (PPP): US$6,806/year (2022 est.); CURRENCY: Colombian peso; CANNABIS STATUS: Legal (medical use), decriminalized (personal growing, consumption), illegal (commercial sale)



  • Cannabis for personal use has been decriminalized in Colombia since 1994 and medical cannabis is legal. A timeline of key events:Colonial period: Hemp is actively cultivated for its industrial fibers but use of psychoactive cannabis is strongly discouraged by the Catholic church and secular government.
  • 1920s-40s: A rise in cannabis use in Atlantic port cities like Barranquilla spurs the Colombian government to further restrict the plant, with crackdowns executed in 1939 and 1946.
  • 1960s-70s: North American drug traffickers collaborate with locals to kick off “booming production” of cannabis in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, per historian James D. Henderson. “Colombian Gold” is smuggled out of the country hidden in banana shipments..
  • 1994: The Constitutional Court of Colombia rules that possession of cannabis and certain other drugs in small amounts is legal. This ruling isn’t consistently enforced in the country, however.
  • 2012: The Colombian government decriminalizes the possession of up to 20 grams of cannabis.
  • 2015: The Colombian Supreme Court rules that cultivation of up to 20 plants for personal use is legal. Legislation legalizing cannabis and its derivatives for medical use is enacted. The Colombian government establishes guidelines for dispensaries.
  • 2023: Colombia mandates that health insurers cover medical cannabis prescriptions for policy holders.

Carla Pareja Paris is a cross-border transactional and regulatory attorney with Zuber Lawler. Damon Poeter is Editor-in-Chief of Global Cannabis Times.



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