Interview: Win-Win

An interview with: Rodrigo Arcila, executive president of ASOCOLCANNA

Executive president of the Colombian cannabis industry association, ASOCOLCANNA since 2018, Rodrigo Arcila has a masters degree in economic development, and over 20 years of experience in both the private and public sectors. He has worked with several ministries in Colombia, including the pharmaceutical chamber of the ANDI business association and the World Self- Medication Industry.

CCI: Which goals do you expect to achieve with the first ASOCOLCANNA forum in September?

RA: Firstly, it’s about the trust we’re creating between ASOCOLCANNA and the government. This is very important in the sense that we are seeing progress in the regulation required and we need to be able to create more confidence for the industry. Also, this is going to be an opportunity for a direct dialogue with the government and for us to highlight the good results the association is producing, as well as the importance of companies coming to Colombia and the importance of specialized industry development.

I think Colombian LPs are stepping up their game to meet Canadian standards in levels of quality and technology. We can turn Colombia into the most important center for the production and supply of cannabis products, especially oils and extracts.

CCI: In your opinion, what are the most important challenges when unionizing cannabis companies?

RA: One of the most important challenges is that we have to bring together a critical mass in Colombia, composed of the most important companies and those who really want to position Colombia in first place. In ASOCOLCANNA we have task forces that everyone can participate in which can enter a direct dialogue with regulators. We integrate their suggestions and concerns and we contribute to the discussion with the government. This understanding is a win-win for both the government and the industry, and this is the main reason ASOCOLCANNA is an important union.

CCI: How has the educational dialogue with financial entities turned out? What stage are you in and what changes should we expect to see this year?

RA: We have called this process one of evangelization, not only for the financial

sector but for the entire community, and it has yielded excellent results. For example, the community today understands what medicinal cannabis is and where it is going in the future. They understand the difference between illegal cultivation and foreign investment with industrial and professional development.

The most important accomplishment is that the government understands this is an industry that can have a huge potential impact on local development. Several research studies and international speakers have come to the same conclusion, and it’s something we’ll focus on in the upcoming event. We’re actually working on a characterization research study with Fedesarrollo to determine the upcoming development in this industry.

CCI: What are ASOCOLCANNA’s perspectives about the future of exports? How have your expectations changed since the beginning of the association?

RA: The local and international outlook is increasingly unified, with countries that have high sanitary vigilance making the biggest demands on these extracts, initially on the raw materials. Expectations have grown, because development has changed a lot in 18 months. We are receiving high levels of investment; cultivation is more technical and fabrication plants are going to need the highest GMP standards. This is an industry which expects to present itself as a top player at an international level.

CCI: What are your goals with the government? What proposals or projects do you have in place to improve the industry’s overall terms?

RA: ASOCOLCANNA’s key task is to present a consolidated association, which is a previous government requirement. We have six founding members and now we’re up to a total of 30 members, with a queue of companies who want to join. We are also offering to present a very serious industry research study to the government, covering the most important indicators they need to make regulatory decisions.

This research is the result of over 30 interviews conducted with the main companies in this sector. Our structured model allowed the main actors in the private sector to comment on the challenges and opportunities, which is going to become a huge database.

Colombia Productiva’s inclusion of the cannabis industry as a very important branch of the pharmaceutical industry, creates a roadmap for the government. We have also been offering the government a series of recommendations on necessary changes in decrees and resolutions.

We recognize the government efforts, and it recognizes the industry’s efforts in job creation and added value for the country. I think as a consequence, the government has enough bases for us to work together on a CONPES document, which would be the guide to develop this industry.

A CONPES document is a very serious commitment from the government’s side, it shows the Duque administration is supporting the industry. Our commitment is that the companies are going to work well within government policy.

CCI: Speaking of the Duque government, what did you think about his recent statement regarding “garage cannabis companies” and rights granted by licenses?

RA: I actually participated in this debate. We agree with the regulatory modification for Decree 613 in the sense that the government wants to see precautions about where the granted licenses are headed. It’s not the same thing to grant licenses to foreign investors who are really interested in using them immediately, and have the appropriate development plans and commitments in place, versus someone who doesn’t really have a special interest

but only a commercial incentive. We appreciate this difference and agree with the government in this matter.

CCI: What tendencies do you expect to see in the following 18 months? Specifically, what should we expect to see regarding patients and healthcare providers (EPS)?

RA: One of the main goals of this industry is to create benefits for patients. Many have already experienced the benefits of cannabis around the world, and there’s scientific evidence to support it.

We believe the next 18 months are definitive for this industry, since the majority of our ASOCOLCANNA members will have had more time to get closer to their production stages. In 18 months, these companies will already have completed their first exports, they will have understood good practices for both cultivation and fabrication, which are going to be key when analyzing the future of the medicinal cannabis industry.