Colombian President Iván Duque signed a decree on Friday lifting an export ban on medicinal cannabis flowers and swinging open the door to the global cannabis industry.

“Colombia will play a major role in the international market,” said Duque when he presented the decree, accompanied by several of his ministers.

The signing event was organized by Clever Leaves, a multinational cannabis company, and held at the company’s 42-hectare facility in Boyacá, in the Colombian Andes.

Colombia has had a legal framework since 2016 that allows the cultivation, manufacture and export of cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes. But the export of cannabis flowers had been banned. Until now.

“By banning the export of dried flowers, the government tried to stimulate technical development in the pharmaceutical industry,” cannabis management consultant Santiago Restrepo told Cannabis Wire – and encouraged companies to process the plant and then export value-added products. “The problem,” said Restrepo, “is that Colombia does not have the capacity to build a pharmaceutical business.”

Cannabis companies with cultivation licenses in Colombia had long asked the government to issue the decree. “We welcome the opportunity to export dried flowers, an industry where the country is very competitive and this will allow companies to accelerate their business plans and generate income in the short and medium term,” said Cesar Diaz, director of the Colombian Chamber of medical and industrial cannabis, Cannabis Wire told.

In addition to the export of dried flowers, which is the most significant shift, the decree also allows cannabis flowers to be processed into medicinal products in the country’s free trade zones, giving companies tax benefits. And it enables CBD to be included in food.

“We’re no longer just into pharmaceutical use,” said the president. “We’re opening up the space to do a lot more in cosmetics … food and beverages.”

The decree could make cannabis one of the country’s top export products, including coal, flowers, and coffee.

Restrepo says that good geographic conditions – mild temperatures, fertile soil, abundant water, and long days – along with cheap and highly skilled labor make the land ideal for growing the plant.

The government estimates the move could boost the economy in the wake of a devastating pandemic. At the signing ceremony, Duque said that flower-shaped medicinal cannabis “represents 53 percent of that market worldwide.” Other countries in the region, such as Uruguay and Mexico, have or will soon have “a legal framework for participation in this sector,” he said.

Fedesarrollo, a Colombian economic and social policy research institute, estimates that one hectare of legal cannabis creates seventeen jobs and, pre-pandemic, the cannabis industry’s export revenue to Colombia will be US $ 109 million in 2020.

The government decision opens up new markets for companies that have grown the plant for years in the Latin American country, including Khiron and Pharmacielo.

“We will have export potential, for example to Germany, Asia, Oceania,” said the Colombian head of state.

Still, Restrepo wonders why it took the government so long to open that door. As Cannabis Wire reported, the non-medical cannabis reform met opposition from Duque’s political group, and the government has been slow to dismantle the cumbersome bureaucracy involved in obtaining licenses and papers for medicinal cannabis.

“There are a lot of investors who got disaffected with Colombia and put money into it, and the industry didn’t catch on, so I think there is skepticism,” Restrepo said. “The real buzz will come when we see the exports.”