PharmaCielo’s David Gordon talks revitalizing Colombia through the medical cannabis industry: A PotNetwork News exclusive
The Colombian government is building an industry.
“And by extension of building an industry, building an economy,” said David Gordon, Chief Corporate Officer of PharmaCielo Ltd. (TSX-V:PCLO) a leading medical cannabis firm based in Canada and Colombia. In an exclusive interview with PotNetwork News, he spoke in detail of Colombia’s growing medical cannabis market.
It’s easy to forget that the country only recently emerged from half a century of violent political unrest funded by kidnappings, and illegal mining and drug sales. Today, however, it has an opportunity to shift by invigorating its economy, bringing in new, international, players, and reclaiming the spaces previously inhabited by violent groups.
For Gordon, who has a background in international trade, public policy, and public relations, shifting into the emerging cannabis market came naturally.
“If you look at my CV, my history, PharmaCielo is, in fact, the ultimate culmination of everything I’ve ever done,” said Gordon before discussing his life after graduate school — to which he joked that the number of years since that time would go undisclosed.
He continued: “I took a government job… in the international trade sector. Then… I went to work in Public policy… and became an advisor to senior elected officials, including the attorney general, most principally, who is also the minister responsible for native affairs. From there, I got recruited away to join the public relations world.”
It is these skills, a combination of understanding public policy, international trade, public relations, and working with indigenous communities in Canada that set Gordon up to work in Colombia with PharmaCielo.
Writing the rulebook for a new industry
PharmaCielo was the first cannabis licensee in Colombia, which, according to Gordon “means we are the trailblazer as it were, we’re the first one to go down every path so we’re in regular conversation with the government, with the regulators, about what to do, how to do it, and how it will work. As any government would do, they pick the brains of everybody and they talk to us regularly on these items.”
“What makes it exciting is we’re not re-writing the rule book, we’re writing the rule book because this has never existed before,” he told PotNetwork News.
“People have cultivated cannabis; I’m not suggesting otherwise,” he said. “[But on a] regulated level it’s never been done before, so it’s a brand new world and everything about it is a blank sheet of paper, and over time that sheet of paper, or sheets — there will be many more than one, are getting filled in.”
One such “fill in,” or new rule being devised concerns trade codes. Gordon provided the disclaimer that he does not speak for the government but that in his perspective “the government is looking at cannabis oil as another crop in their top five global exports.”
That includes cut flowers. And while it is legal to export and import medical cannabis, companies are still left with a question.
“Does it fit under this trade code or does it fit under that code and this is the one that ha[s] been used so far,” he said. “[We aren’t sure if] those will continue to be the ones that are used? As medicinal research develop and get deeper and richer, we’ll find those things being addressed over time.”
Gordon said the real challenge is how not to reinvent the wheel but to use expertise, both manual expertise, and regulatory expertise, from other industries.
How partnerships and CSR are building the cannabis economy in Colombia
For PharmaCielo, participating in the local economy means partnering with communities and firms in complementary Colombian industries to establish personal and professional relationships in the locations in which they work.
“One of the items we’ve always been very supportive [of] is this idea of working with the broader community, and in Colombia, there are a number of communities including the indigenous peoples, some of the people in the post-conflict zones, and the campesinos,” Gordon told PotNetwork News.
One of the company’s closer partnerships is with the Arhuaco people, an indigenous people living across Colombia.
“We’ll spend two to three years building the relationship,” he continued. “It is a working together model, not ‘here is something from us.’ It’s a partnership model because we believe that to be the strongest model of operation.”
When asked about the goal for these partnerships, Gordon spoke of community-building.
“We have formalized one, and we are in the process of formalizing another... to establish a joint venture with some of these organizations, or community groups.”
PharmaCielo’s work fits into an already bustling economy, the cut flower industry, giving the company expertise and legitimizing medical cannabis in the industry. To Gordon, cannabis is no different than any other crop.
“The cannabis flower is yet another flower when you have the people who know how to [cultivate] it,” he said.
The company’s rapport with the Arhuaco and other partners in the region encompasses all aspects of society. In addition to personal relationships that solidify over time, the company, through its foundation, Foundation PharmaCielo, funds and enables local non-profits to “do what they’re already doing quite well,” which is helping the community.
According to what Gordon told PotNetwork News, the foundation will be funded by “2 percent of the net revenues of PharmaCielo as a corporate entity so we’ve made that commitment.”
The foundation follows the UN-approved sustainable development goals to build symbiotic relationships with the land and the people.
A Colombian cannabis company
PharmaCielo received accolades from across the industry being one of only two companies to receive approval for licensed cannabis strains with the Colombian government, the first medical cannabis firm to do so in the country.
For companies seeking to commercially cultivate THC-dominant strains of cannabis in Colombia, 10 percent of the cultivation must be from rural and indigenous campesino communities.
“We were very supportive of it,” Gordon indicated about the requirement.
[A PotNetwork News investigative report: Bomi Joseph’s “hops-derived” CBD was a world-changing cannabis alternative fought over by Isodiol and Medical Marijuana Inc. But he lied about his discovery — and his identity.]
But licensed companies were under a strict deadline to complete the work.
“Until December 31, 2018, to set up their seed bank,” said Gordon. “What we had done over the past several years is accumulate 186 landrace strains within Colombia.”
PharmaCielo harvested seeds from across the country. Gordon knows there are more out there, but the company has 186 seeds types with which to test and cultivate, including the historically cultivated seeds from their Arhuaco partners.
“In November, the Arhuaco, the Mamo, who is the spiritual leader of the community, gifted us the seeds of their strains which were 400-500 years of age,” he said.
PharmaCielo’s first batch of oil is set to hit the shelves in 2019. This first batch of oil is not GMP certified, but the company is in the process of building a processing plant that they hope will receive such certification.
“We have not begun sales yet,” Gordon responded when asked about medicinal oil shortages and distribution hold-ups. “In 2019, we will begin revenue generation and sales springboard in from the non-GMP CBD oil that we are developing and accumulating today.”
He continued: “We have as of today, in excess of 7 hectares under active cultivation. Our intent in 2019 is to have 20 hectares under active cultivation.”
However, he indicated that the 10-week cultivation cycle and the excitement of the government in welcoming the industry to Colombia make it the ideal location for cannabis farming.
“PharmaCielo is built and developed on the model of supplying the global market,” Gordon told PotNetwork News. “[The] intent is to maintain the core of our cultivation facilities and processing within Colombia at this time. We need to focus on that one first, and then we can look at the global markets.”