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The following report analyses Colombia and its transition from coca production to marijuana production. In the report, the history of the coca production is presented, how this industry has fared over the years as well as the key players in the trade. Additionally, the reader is provided with the effects of coca production in Colombia economically, socially and politically. Moreover, the report covers efforts made by the government to eradicate or reduce the cultivation and production of coca. Furthermore, the report covers the environmental implications of eradication of production of coca. Following the efforts of eradicating the production of coca, the reader is provided with the emerging trend in Colombia of cultivating, processing and selling of medical marijuana. The reader is provided with the medical benefits of marijuana. Finally this reports covers how the legalization process of medical marijuana occurred in Colombia and the motivations behind this move as well as what the government hopes to achieve by making this move.
Keywords: Cocoa, marijuana, legal, violence, economy
Colombia Coca and Marijuana Production
Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on earth after Brazil (De Tierra, 2004). It is home to roughly ten percent of the earth’s species, taking the lead in bird species (Potes, 2013). This incredible biodiversity is as a result of its rich tropical rainforest, open savannas and coastal cloud forests. With such a serene climate, it is perfect for farming. When one hears of farming, their mind directly goes to growing of vegetables and fruit for consumption both locally and internationally. However, when it comes to Colombia, this is not the kind of farming flourishing. Colombia is well known for its coca production and most recently, production of marijuana. A report produced by United States, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in 2000 informed that, Colombia, at the time, was the world’s principal producer and distributer of refined cocaine. Almost seventy percent of this cocaine found its way into the United States markets.
Cocaine is usually produced in three stages. First, the coca leaves are crushed and boiled together with kerosene and lime water in order to produce coca paste. This paste is then carefully mixed with sulphuric acid, potassium permanganate and ammonium hydroxide. Instead of using sulphuric acid, one might opt to use Sulphur dioxide. After this, it is filtered and dried into a cocaine base. Resulting mixture is then dissolved in acetone in order to produce a white precipitate which is dried and made into brick in order to be transported to its destination. Consumers of the product may opt to either inhale the powder through the nostrils or to inject it intravenously. Colombia, in its hay days of coca production, took care of handling all these three stages including growing and harvesting of the coca leaves. However, this was not always the case, since in the 1970s, Colombia imported coca form Peru and Bolivia, processed it and finally exported it to the United States (Holmes et al., n.d). This industry quickly became a major economic driver for the country and by the early 1980s, the country began growing its own coca (Holmes et al., n.d).
By 2004, Colombia was the world’s largest producer of coca accounting for 80 % of the world’s cocaine production (Mason, 2010). A census carried out showed that in 2013, Colombia has 48000 hectares of coca crops distributed among the country’s thirty two departments (UNODC, 2013). In 2014, this number significantly increased to 69000 hectares (UNODC, 2014). Most of this coca production takes place in the following departments: Meta, Nariño, Putumayo, Vichada, Caquetá and Antioquia (Steiner and Vallejo, 2010). The main players in the cocaine production business in Colombia before 1994 were the Medellin Cartel which was headed by Pablo Escobar until his death in 1993 (Schultze-Kraft, 2016). After his death and the capture of key players of the Cali Cartel, the industry fell into unorganized small syndicates which operate in form of small independent cells. It is difficult to determine exactly how these syndicates operate since they lack the organization and leadership that was present in the Medellin and Cali Cartels. As a result, authorities find it difficult to accurately picture their intentions and capabilities.
Production of coca in Colombia has had some significant impact on its economy offering different economic opportunities to its citizens. The industry is estimated to have employed around 67000 households in Colombia with even children being employed in this industry (Steiner and Vallejo, 2010). Farmers have also benefited from this industry since their returns were relatively high considering that the product was mostly exported to the United States. However, the production of cocaine in Colombia has resulted in more negative impacts than positive ones. Violence is mostly associated with this industry. Cocaine trade has single handedly fueled drug related crime and violence. In the 1990s, it is reported that the country experienced a wave of bomb attacks, shootings and kidnappings which were all aimed at intimidating the government in order to change their policy regarding extradition of Colombia drug lords to the United States. Additionally, a full blown civil war between Escobar and los pepes (a rival vigilante group) broke out which put the country in the middle of a wave of violent attacks. Escobar, as the head of the Medellin Cartel, caused a lot of violence in the streets of Colombia gong as far as murdering hundreds of police officers. These drugs syndicates which emerged after the collapse of the Medellin and Cali Cartels also fight amongst each other in an attempt to assert dominance and claim their territory. Innocent casualties usually find themselves in the middle of these conflicts and more than often end up losing their lives or getting injured in the process. Additionally, these syndicates threaten common citizens with threats of violence and sometimes actual violence in order to bend them to their will. All in all, it is estimated that violence in Colombia is at about 30000 murders annually (FBI Homicide Report, 1998). Reports indicate that there is a positive relationship between production of cocaine and increase in violence in Colombia (Holmes et al., n.d).
Politically, the country has also negatively suffered as a result of cocaine production. Cocaine, like heroin, still maintains lucrative returns in the black market, and therefore, drug dealers always find themselves with more money than they can spend. On average, in 1999, 520 metric tons of cocaine would retail at a price of one hundred dollars per gram in the United States, meaning that the returns would be as much as over fifty billion dollars (US Department of State, 1999). This being the case, they are able to spare some money to pay off government officials to look the other way while they conduct their illegal businesses. The resulting effect is that, corruption has specifically become rampant in all governmental institutions which has greatly undermined the governmental executive authority. The legitimacy of the government was especially called into question when it was proven that drug syndicates had been responsible for financing President Ernesto Samper campaign for the election of 1994 (Tickner, 1998). Cocaine production has also caused an influx of immigrants from neighboring countries who all want a piece of the pie. As a result, Colombia faces a refugee problem. With all these problems in mind, something had to be done to reduce the production of cocaine and restore the country’s authority into the government’s hands instead of malicious drug cartels.
To eradicate this problem or try and reduce it, the Colombian government put in place programs aimed at reducing cultivation of coca. These programs include cutting and burning of these plants. Additionally, they destroy these plants by using herbicides which are sprayed from helicopters or aircrafts. Police officers have specifically been called to serve in this process. During the three month presidential campaign and during the actual elections about 60000 police officers were unavailable due to manual coca eradication (Bureau of International narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, 2015). As a result, in recent years, the production of coca in Colombia as well as the land under cultivation of coca has been steadily reducing. UNODC has reported a significant drop in coca production between 2010 and 2013 in Colombia from 424 metric tons to 290 tons.
As effective as these methods have been in curtailing production and cultivation of coca, the environmental repercussions of these actions are huge. Manual cutting down of plants leaves the land prone to soil erosion and infertility. Due to seasonal rains in the country, lands left bare after uprooting of plants suffers soil erosion which means that it becomes infertile to use. Farmers upon noticing this, simply abandon the land and move further into the forested area, clearing trees and planting more coca plants. As a result of this constant deforestation, the serene climate of the forest is altered and not for the better. Use of herbicides on the other hand, is harmful to the soil as well as the people themselves. Aerial spray pf these herbicides is particularly harmful to the health of humans since it can cause dizziness, burning eyes and respiratory problems. It was reported that, after this spraying of herbicides, inhabitants of these areas or those close by checked into hospitals with complaints of health issues. This also resulted in loss of farmers crops which were in the line of fire. But more severe was the effect on land since these herbicides render the land completely infertile meaning that nothing else can grow in the area where these chemicals were sprayed.
One would expect that after reduction of this cultivation of coca, the country would concentrate on growing healthier crops. However, the country has only replaced one drug with another, with a recent increase in cultivation of marijuana in Colombia. One would wonder, why wouldn’t farmers opt to grow healthy vegetables instead of drugs? The sad truth of the matter is that, drugs bring in more profits than mere vegetables. For instance, Elmer Orozco, a small time farmer started planting marijuana after discovering that other kinds of agriculture within his locality was not profitable (Casey, 2017). He made this discovery after growing tomatoes which he could only sell for about thirteen cents per kilogram and he could only sell them at the market just near his home. Marijuana on the other hand has a high demand internationally which brings in higher returns. For this reason, Mr. Elmer decided it was better for his family to grow marijuana instead of tomatoes that do not benefit him in the least.
The country’s rich climate, low labor costs and a skilled labor force make it ideal for growing of marijuana. Many international companies will be attracted to invest in this industry given these attractive conditions. Additionally, with an increase in the legalization of the drug in North America, there is an increased economic opportunity for the country (Zarya, 2016). This is not the only market available for marijuana, this drug is trafficked all over the world. However, marijuana is not a new drug in Colombia, in the 1970s and 1980s, Americans were particularly biased to marijuana (Colombian Gold Sativa) grown on the slopes of Sierra Nevada (The Economist, 2016). United States Library of Congress reports that cultivation of marijuana started in the initial decade of the twentieth century and took off in the middle of the century i.e. 1960s. Colombian government has taken initiative to control the growth and trade of marijuana in the territories which was previously controlled by the rebel groups (Casey, 2017). This is in an attempt to regulate the production and distribution of the drug so as not to allow it to spiral out of control as the production of cocaine did.
Colombian government has decided to go legal with the production of marijuana and in May of last year, Colombian congress voted to legalize marijuana for medical reasons. This decision came after the president commanded an overhaul of the country’s thirty year old drug laws. This new legalization of marijuana for medical purposes allows for the drug to be cultivated locally, processed locally, consumed locally and its products like creams and oils be exported. However, this law prohibits the exportation of the flower of the plant, which is normally the part of the plant that people smoke leisurely. Currently, a product produced from marijuana is Sativex which is a form of marijuana used to treat chronic pain.
Colombia is not the first country to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, countries like the United States and Canada legalized it years back. At this point it is important to note that marijuana has been scientifically proven to have several medicinal purposes.  There is moderate evidence that this drug is useful in elevating muscle spasms and chronic pain. If there are no more workable treatments, marijuana may be prescribed for migraines, arthritis, anorexia and glaucoma (Mc Glade, Sachs and Yugelun, 2015). There is evidence, although, not sufficient, that marijuana helps reduce vomiting and increases appetite during chemotherapy and to patients living with HIV/AIDS (Whiting et al., 2015).
This move by the government is an attempt to create more jobs for its people and increase the country’s total revenue. Many companies, as a result of this legalization, have already submitted their applications for permits to be allowed to manufacture medical marijuana legally in Colombia (Rueda, 2016). This is just the beginning as the government plans to grant these and many more licenses. One such company that has already been granted permission to cultivate, process and export medical marijuana is PharmaCielo which is a Canadian based company (Kaplan, 2016). Other similar companies include Cannavida which is another Canadian based company and a Colombian based Company called Labfarve-Ecomedics. Previously, farmers who grew marijuana did so at the request of drug traffickers (rebel groups) who dominated the industry. They would plant and harvest these crops for these drug lords. Colombian Government signed a peace deal with this rebel group in 2016 which freed the farmers leaving them with the option of continuing to grow the product with the blessing of their government, as a result of this, the profit proceeds from these sales would go directly to the government as well as the farmers (Casey, 2017). With this in mind, it can be concluded that the farmers will be able to gain more profits than when they were working for drug lords.
It is important to note that the government did not make this move purely for financial motives, but they are hoping to eradicate illegal drug trafficking that has put a dent in the country’s economic development. Additionally, they are optimistic that investors will be attracted by this new law which will eventually lift the economy (Kaplan, 2016). Moreover, the government is hoping to redeem their values and names in the eyes of their citizens as well as the whole world at large after suffering major embarrassment at the hand of drug cartels in the past.
From the discussion above, it is clear that Colombia is a country plagued with a drug problem. Although most of the drugs produced are exported to the United States, the production of these drugs impacts the country negatively in many ways. Production of coca has specifically been responsible for a wave of violence that terrorized the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The government has not been spared either by this plague as it has also suffered greatly through corruption which has tainted its image. However, the government has relentlessly continued fighting the war on cocaine and made significant headway in this fight. As a result, production of coca has considerably reduced. Reduction of this production has left an empty space in the country’s production of exportable goods, and the government has stepped in to remedy this situation by legalizing production, consumption and exportation of medical marijuana. By legalizing marijuana production, the government hopes to attract foreign investors. This decision is already proving to be the right one since a significant number of local as well as international companies have already applied for production licenses and these applications have already been approved. It is the hope of the government that this move will create employment to its citizens, free its people from engaging in illegal production and smuggling of drugs and restore the government’s image that has severely been tainted by production of Coca.
What the government needs to concentrate more on now is protection of common farmers from these big corporations to ensure that they do not get exploited by these companies the way the rebel cartels used to exploit them and rob them of their profits.
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