Interview: "Canna-Mercantilism"?

An interview with Michael Miller: International attorney, thought leader and influencer; cannabis editor & evangelist for LA Weekly

Michael Miller is an international lawyer, author, journalist, radio host, public speaker and investor. He is considered a global thought leader in the cannabis space, is a sought-after international speaker, and has advised numerous companies, lawmakers and government officials. His articles have been published by Benzinga, LA Weekly, Morningstar, amongst others.

CCI: Given your experience in the global cannabis industry, what are your impressions of Colombia’s emergence?

MM: I feel like Michael Fox in Back to the Future getting out of my silver DeLorean. California paved the way for medical legalization in 1996, which feels like the future when arriving in a country that nearly 25 years later, is now in its embryonic stages of legalization. California’s nearly quarter century of collective experience albeit imperfect, is an extraordinary model and starting point. Market leadership is a double- edged sword as it comes with no rulebook. Newly legalized countries now have the benefit of looking into the rear view mirror seeing the path already paved and have the privilege of being able to create a system based upon their own history, culture and objectives, without having to reinvent the wheel. For Colombia, I am cautiously hopeful. Not only is Colombia dealing with the stigma of the plant itself, but its own historical stigma.

CCI: In your recent article, “From Cannabis to Coffee” regarded as one of the best articles written about Colombia by a non-Colombian, you coined the term ‘Canna-Mercantilism’. What does that mean?

MM: Let’s go back in time to the mid 18th century when the great European super- powers jostled for power and wealth. Mercantilism was economic regulation to enhance one’s own power at the expense of others. Less powerful markets were the treasure chests of natural resources.

Manufacturing was only allowed by the mother country so it could sell back finished goods at a substantial profit to the country it obtained the natural resources from. It was good to be the king.

Flash forward two centuries later. Whether the natural resources are oil, gold, emeralds, diamonds or agricultural commodities, raw materials – despite their value – have rarely delivered fair value to or changed the economic circumstances of the masses. The new raw material is cannabis and I am very concerned. Whether it is in Latin America, Africa, Asia, or any emerging small European country, North American companies see cheap outputs such as labor, sunshine and fertile soil as an opportunity.

Colombia cannot reach the next rung on the economic development ladder by selling commodity cannabis flower or cannabinoid oils. It must develop its own intellectual property and finished products.

CCI: What do you think publicly traded companies doing business in Colombia should do to support the country and the industry?

MM: It sounds like you want the Miller Rules to avoid the “Canna-Mercantalist” label. My economic thesis is not based on the extremes of either exploitation or altruism. Companies have an obligation to their shareholders and don’t exist to be NGOs. That said, a fundamental balance must be struck with fairness as the cornerstone.

A company entering a country to take advantage of low cost natural resources and labor is not bad in itself. The economic question is “What is the net effect?” If a foreign company’s shareholders obtain 90% of the economic value, that result is exploitative and would be typical if dealing with a commodity.

There are two options. Government can take action with mandates such as fees and taxes or industry can demonstrate leadership by creating a unified plan to be a stakeholder and partner with Colombia.

CCI: If you were the President of Colombia, what would you do about cannabis reform?

MM: I would first push stigma to the side, educate myself and listen to those with actual cannabis experiences: mothers whose children’s epileptic seizures have

stopped; veterans whose PTSD symptoms have been relieved; former opiate addicts who successfully transitioned from narcotics; and sons and daughters who relieved parents from issues associated with chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain or palliative care.

I would create policies that made the relief of suffering my underlying policy and legacy objective, politics aside.

CCI: You recently participated in the creation of potentially historic legislation. Please provide us with an overview of those efforts.

MM: Senator Galán’s historic medical cannabis Law 1787 has a fascinating background. Unlike any other country (except Mexico) or US state, legalization was not the result of decades of advocacy, a vote by ‘the people’ or an Executive decision. It was the third branch of government that spoke, the ‘Judicial’ that gave Colombians newfound rights.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court expressly recognized fundamental rights expressed in UN Human Rights Conventions including health, personality and liberty, which served as the basis for 1787.

In May of this year, a joint coalition of Colombia senators, led by Senator Gustavo Bolívar formed with the goal of historic drug policy reform. The initial step was the draft of an Amendment to the Constitution to incorporate language of the Court’s decision.

It was submitted last month and additional legislation, expanding upon the 1787 legal framework is anticipated to be submitted in the next few weeks, which will open the door to potential adult-use legislation.

I believe reform is inevitable. A positive outcome, while being beneficial for Colombia, should also serve as a catalyst for other countries in Latin America who are proceeding with extraordinary caution.

CCI: What is the government’s position?

MM: The conservative Duque government has made its position very clear. Despite this, I am hopeful. At the end of the day, President Duque is a father, son and responsible Colombian. Health, wellness, and liberty should not be political issues.

While it would be beneficial to have governmental support, because of the judicial and legislative legality and the likelihood of further reform, I believe popular support will push elected officials to support their constituents’ interests, needs and desires.

CCI: What would be the benefits of broad scale drug reform including the legalization of adult-use cannabis?

MM: On a macro level, benefits would include freedom of personal choice but most importantly, the transition from a criminal justice mindset to one of public health. A ‘Portugal Model’ would reallocate public resources in a more thoughtful, progressive and solution-oriented way.

The War on Drugs has been a half-century epic failure on all levels with extraordinary financial and human costs.

The adult use implications on a micro level are broad. Greater demand will increase the need for supply; opportunities will increase exponentially for small farmers and for employment at every level of production. Portions of license fees and tax revenue should be allocated for education and facilities.

The creation of a cooperative, analogous to Juan Valdez for small coffee farms and growers would provide back office support, legal and accounting.