What the local elections mean for the cannabis industry

Local authorities have the power to help or hinder operations on the ground.

By: Sergio Guzman

Overall, the local elections held on October 27 demonstrated a slight shift in Colombian democracy – away from a traditional, family- based system, towards strengthened independent movements, coalitions, and alternative parties.

Far from a clear unifying message, the elections sent a hodgepodge of messages to the country. Colombia is a long way from having a body politic that resembles a developed country but one thing is clear: Political parties have eroded significantly and party affiliation alone cannot be used to understand an elected official’s ideology or to project how they will face issues.

Local officials do have a say regarding local taxation, territorial plans, and land permits.

The elections were a significant blow to the ruling Centro Democrático party and should give President Iván Duque pause to reassess some of his party’s hardline positions on issues such as the implementation of the peace agreement, drug reform, and its anti-corruption efforts. Duque has had plenty of opportunities to change his tone on all these issues and he has yet to budge, even in spite of growing social unrest.

It is likely that sooner or later Duque will have to find issues and opportunities where he can build bridges with independent and opposition parties. Clear areas where the president can accomplish this goal include rural reform, anti-corruption measures, and advancing the sustainable development objectives, all areas where the cannabis industry could prove useful.

Locally elected officials do not have a purview in cannabis regulation – for now.

To be clear, the 11,000 newly elected officials do not have decision-making power when it comes to regulating the cannabis industry, this is exclusively the realm of the national government. However, local officials do have a say regarding local taxation, territorial plans, and land permits. On all these issues local officials have the potential to become the cannabis industry’s allies or foes. As the industry flourishes, so will its demand for labor and resources. In terms of labor, all municipalities will be keen to attract an industry that can potentially become a significant local employer as it is estimated that each hectare of cannabis can employ up to six people. Things are likely to get dicier when it comes to evaluating the environmental impact of the crops as it pertains to their use of water. In this respect, territorial plans, irrigation districts, and land-use permissions will become central to making the cannabis industry feel welcome or bullied vis-à-vis other agricultural interests in the area.

The cannabis industry can become a key ally in the development of certain municipalities, especially if it engages local communities as suppliers, vendors, and employees. The one aspect that has yet to be determined is how the industry will respond to the requirement to include small- and medium-scale growers into their supply chains. It is precisely here where local authorities are likely to pressure the industry to show progress.

Subnational political risks are highly undervalued in Colombia when it comes to certain industries like the extractive sector. Let’s make sure the same does not happen with cannabis