Latin America is a global example in the deregulation of cannabis. Companies across the Americas are investing in states where legalization is at the forefront. Countries are courting investors and building communities to design and further deregulation initiatives.
Cannabis is a historical and cultural medicine for many communities across Latin America, and some governments, like Colombia, are seeking to elevate those communities and include them in the new booming economy.
This week, PotNetwork had a chat with Carol Ortega Algarra, Founder and Managing Director of Muisca Capital Group, a Colombia- and California-based investment management firm designed to empower and support Latino cannabis entrepreneurs in finding credible sources of capital to back their ventures.
Algarra’s firm builds educational and entrepreneurial access to the Cannabis market for Colombians and Latinos through her firm and through CannaCiencia and Cannabiz Latino Hub, two events designed to help Colombians and Latinos gain the education and networks they need in the cannabis space, as well as become entrepreneurs in their own right.
Creating space for Latinos in Latin American cannabis
Algarra, originally from Colombia, “an accountant, a CPA, and a financial person by trade”, entered the cannabis industry after she was diagnosed with PTSD and began using CBD to treat it.
“CBD definitely changed my life because I was diagnosed with PTSD, unfortunately, and so I fell in love with CBD and the benefits it brings us as a people, as humans.”
Living in Portland at the time, she watched the legalization movement expand across the western United States. “Then I decided to use my expertise to see what I could capitalize on from the movement and see how I can help the Latino community get more involved and take some leadership.”
Portland’s Latino space is limited, with only a small percentage of businesses owned by the community, so “I decided to move to California and start the firm I’m leading right now.”
However, barriers facing the Latino community in cannabis don’t stop in Portland.
Cannabis and Latin America are linked due to the medicine’s role in indigenous communities, the locations’ significance as a significant supplier, despite prohibition, and the resulting impact on Latinos across Latin America and in the United States.
Last year, Mexico experienced the highest number of drug-related homicides in its history, in the United States, 50 percent of federal drug charges are against Latinos, despite being 17% of the population.
“If you go through all the statistics in the United States, unfortunately, most of the charges in cannabis are to Latinos.”
Prosecutions and death due to convictions and violence left “stigma” and “fear in the community.”
Today, with full prohibition a thing of the past, much of the Latin American cannabis industry is led by Canadian and American firms. These firms work with governments and communities, list on the American and Canadian stock exchanges, and split the capital across continents.
Algarra wants to see capital managed by Latinos and kept in Latino communities by empowering them to enter the cannabis space, and her work will help them fill it.
“The Latino community is a community that I have been working for since I arrived in the United States. I am an immigrant, and I definitely understand the challenges of our community right now, especially the challenges we have based in this industry.”
“The social responsibility component of all our opportunities is tremendous. I think we have a huge responsibility to make sure that the industry has a decent level of diversity, especially with the Latino community.”
Muisca Capital Group’s social responsibility
For Algarra entering the cannabis space transcends business opportunities.
“If you are an entrepreneur and you are doing something, some kind of work or are a professional in the cannabis industry, every single one of us should own that we are involved in the peace process everywhere.”
Referring to decades of civil war in Colombia, she believes that legalization supported “building better forms of communication and, finally, peace. And the indigenous groups [lived in] places in Colombia where most of the illegal crops have been grown for centuries, where indigenous communities have some ancestral and cultural attachment to the medicinal plant.”
Legalization, combined with extended cultural use of the products, will not change the industry overnight. “I think one of the biggest challenges for the Latino and Latin American community everywhere is that our industry is so brand new and all the educational services are in English, all the resources we have are in English, so everything has to get built in Spanish.”
Bringing the same level of education and networking to her community became a space for Algarra to fill as a way to financially empower her community and bring peace back to cannabis.
Educating a network of Latino cannabis entrepreneurs
Algarra identified two significant barriers for Latinos to get involved in the cannabis market: stigma around cannabis and the need for financial literacy training.
When Algarra initially began building educational networking tools and events, she says “we started the first conference with an investment” focus.
The combination of cannabis entrepreneurship and venture capital funding is brand new to Colombia. “We’re pioneering, not only in the Latino space for the cannabis industry, but for venture capital.”
What she found “is that the stigma and the ignorance and the fear in the Spanish community, not only the Latino community . . . is so huge.” Starting her work with an investment event skipped a crucial educational component about the use of medicinal cannabis.
“There is no other tool that is going to overcome this but science.”
From this, CannaCiencia emerged.
Celebrating its second birthday this year on May 3-4 in Bogota, Colombia, CannaCiencia is a fact-based scientific conference that educates investors about cannabis, from policy and manufacturing to medicinal research.
She wanted to build a space, not just for hard science, but for political science, economic science, and industrial science as well—education for potential entrepreneurs in all aspects of entering a global business market.
Laughing, she recalled the shock on the faces of university professors who she asked to be a part of a cannabis event. If anything, that shock spurred her forward as a demonstration of the lack of education.
Last year, the conference hosted over 1,000 people, this year Algarra expects nearly 2,000.
Its success allows her, this year, to host the investment event, which had been her original goal: Cannabiz Latino Hub.
A Latina entrepreneur for entrepreneurs Latinos
The Cannabiz Latino Hub links social justice, responsibility, education, and professional networking to help “connect capital with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs to capital.”
“What we do is help entrepreneurs find incredible sources of capital to back their idea, their initiative, with sustainable capital. We also help them shape their business strategy, shape long term, and short term strategies, and one of the biggest components of what we do is [working] with Latin American partners and strategic providers.”
Algarra indicated that the company’s noteworthy wins are “Seeing these organizations get funded and get funded from credible sources from highly responsible sources.”
Muisca is working with the Arcview Group, a cannabis investment and market research firm, of which Algarra is a member and who “have been amazing”, according to her words.
“For years I was the only Latina in the room.” As the cannabis industry boomed, “We all need resources to start, and when I was a part of the Arcview Group, and I saw the impact that this could have on our communities, I ha[d] to partner with [them].”
When questioned what attendees could achieve as a part of the Hub, Algarra indicated that she wanted to bring a networking opportunity, similar to what the Arcview Group provided to her, to the Latino market.
“As a person who has been working very closely in the financial industry for years in Latin America, it was amazing having and seeing [the Arcview Group]. I was sitting there and saying to myself; I want to do this for the Latino community. We need setups like this in Latin America. This is one of the forums that I have seen that can work for the elimination of poverty.”
On May 2, entrepreneurs, indigenous groups, educators, investors will come together at the inaugural Cannabiz Latino Hub, the first investment summit for Latino entrepreneurs in Latin America.
“What we are going to finally see is the Latino Community be reached.”