The Colombian may try to kill two birds with one stone by employing former rebels in the country’s new medical marijuana market. The nation is in the middle of retooling both its drug policies and peace negotiations with guerilla fighters. Last year, Colombia legalized medical marijuana and, just last week, the government signed an historic ceasefire agreement with the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia), a guerilla group that has been in armed conflict with the government since 1964.
The nation just handed out its first production and export license, and the market is primed to explode, with eyes toward distributing in the U.S., Germany, Canada, Holland, and Spain, according to the Wall Street Journal. Many of the richest areas of the country for cultivating marijuana are also the ones that have been inhabited by rebel fighters for half a century. And creating jobs for roughly 7,000 career rebel fighters after their demobilization is a major component of the country’s transition into peace. So, bringing together the former guerillas and the new worker-hungry cannabis industry could be beneficial to everyone.
“This could be an option for people affected by the conflict,” said Eduardo Diaz, a government official in charge of strategy for post-conflict zones.
The move is evidence of a new era for Colombia, one in stark contrast to its past as a nation afflicted by both a bloodletting illegal drug cartel and violence between the government and rebel fighters. In the 1970s, a booming marijuana export business created the market that gave rise to seemingly unstoppable narcotics kingpins, such as Pablo Escobar, which were responsible for countless murders within the country and without. Years later, the same crop could be used to heal the sick and bring the nation into a time of peace.
“If the plan is well-regulated, with proper safeguards and oversight to ensure that neither the product nor the profits end up in the illegal market, then this is a perfectly legitimate endeavor,” Adam Isacson told WSJ. Isacson is an analyst in the Washington Office on Latin America think tank. “As long as those conditions are met, it could be emblematic of how Colombia might evolve from a pioneer of the illegal drug trade to a pioneer of a more creative, mature approach to drugs. And because medical cannabis is a new industry, there is no need to convince long-established, cautious employers to take a risk on hiring demobilized ex-combatants.”
A final peace deal between the government and rebellion is expected to go through July 20. There are currently no limits on the number of marijuana manufacturing and export licenses that can be handed out, though only extracts, and not raw cannabis flowers, are permitted to be exported from the country.
Photo via Flickr user medea_material