Cannabis producer Khiron Life Sciences Corp. today announced it has obtained authorization from the Colombian government to be the first in the country to commercialize psychoactive cannabis for both domestic and export purposes. Prior to this approval, commercial producers of cannabis in Colombia were all confined to selling only product that tested with less than a negligible 1% THC, the psychoactive property in marijuana.
The pioneering event will allow Khiron to provide cannabis extract with high THC to treat up to 15,000 initial patients domestically through the Latin American Institute of Neurology and the Nervous System (ILANS). Considered one of the most respected and largest health service provider networks in Colombia and Latin America, the clinics will use THC-abundant cannabis – ranging from 5 to 20% THC – to treat neurologic conditions, including sleep disorders, neuropathic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
“It was very important for us to get this authorization for commercial sales, so we can assist in treating more patients right away,” said Khiron CEO Alvaro Torres from his office outside of Bogota. “Chronic pain has better efficiency with cannabis that includes higher levels of THC. A lot of patients are switching from opiates to THC, so the longer the wait, the greater the distress.”
The government approval is a result of new commercial quotas allocated to Khiron by the Colombian Technical Quotas Group (TQG), which is permitting the company to cultivate and sell up to 1,234 pounds – or approximately, 65,000 units – of psychoactive cannabis for 2019. They will also enjoy the right to export whole plant extract to Uruguay, and via the Mercosur trading bloc agreement, can deliver product to the Brazilian medical cannabis market, valued in 2018 at $13.5 billion.
Khiron has previously proven itself capable in the eyes of the Colombian government as a worthy provider of research-grade cannabis, gaining clearance earlier this year to export cannabis to the United Kingdom for projected scientific research. The study – created by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London and called Project Twenty21 – is slated to enroll 20,000 patients by the end of 2021. Its aim is to create the largest body of evidence for the efficacy of medical cannabis as a potential therapy for ailments including PTSD, Tourette’s Syndrome, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and anxiety disorder. Khiron is the only Latin American cannabis producer to participate as a supplier to Project Twenty21.
As Latin America continues to expand as a key producer of legal cannabis, Colombia looks to be a frontrunner and key developer in the space. Some of the country’s wins in the cannabis market may have to do with Colombia’s autocratic government and the ability to expediently pass laws by decree, swiftly removing political bottlenecks as they arise.
But much of their success, as Khiron is showing, may also be chocked up to scientific expertise and agricultural advantages. Situated on the equator, Colombia enjoys an ideal 12-hour day, 12-hour-night cycle that flowering marijuana plants thrive in, as well as abundant rainfall and relatively consistent weather patterns. That’s compared to a locale like North America, where cannabis production in Ontario, Canada can require vast resources to create hospitable environments for healthy plants.
Cultivating using greenhouses in Colombia, says Torres, “requires far less of the typically massive infrastructure to heat and cool like they do in Canada. We incur a fraction of that cost.”
Low cost is, of course, a great advantage, but success comes down to business savvy. Torres says Khiron has brought in a skilled management team, and has the likes of former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, on its board of directors.
Looking forward, Torres draws a comparison to Colombia’s coffee trade, seeking to learn lessons from that market.
“We don’t want to sell coffee beans at 80 cents a pound,” he says, “We want to be like Starbucks and sell a cup of coffee for four dollars.”
Khiron’s manufacturing of high-THC whole plant extract is anticipated to begin Q1 2020.