Medicinal cannabis could bring in $6 billion a year for Colombia, government says

People attend the 1st forum of the Colombian Association of the Medical and Scientific Cannabis Industry "ASOCOLCANNA" in Bogota, Colombia September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia could export $6 billion a year in medicinal cannabis products, making marijuana its third-largest source of foreign exchange, the government said on Thursday, as investors called for simpler regulations for marijuana producers.

Colombian law already regulates the possession, production, distribution, sale and export of seeds and other marijuana products like oils and creams, but investors say the export approval process is tortuous.

“It’s possible to be a very important player at an international level in terms of exports. The estimates show we could effectively be at the level of $6 billion annually,” commerce vice minister Saul Pineda told attendees at the country’s first annual cannabis conference.

Colombia has so far only licensed seed-producing by businesses because of complex compliance standards for everything from sanitation to security, in a country still famous for being a top illegal narcotics producer.

“More forceful action in regulatory terms is needed so we don’t lose the momentum that we have been growing with,” said Gustavo Escobar, head of innovation at Colombian-Canadian joint venture Clever Leaves.

“We’re lacking some adjustments that would allow us to attend to markets as quickly as possible, before other countries get ahead of us,” he added.

Colombia’s hearty sunlight and equatorial climate could make it a major producer of medicinal cannabis, whose cultivation in the country has been backed by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board.

Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker