LEGAL: A brief look at marijuana on Colombia’s Caribbean coast


This past Tuesday, on December 23rd, President Santos signed the decree to legalize and regulate medical marijuana in Colombia. Specifically, this new law covers the creation of regulations surrounding possession, cultivation, production, exportation, distribution, and trade, all of which will be permitted under the umbrella of medical or scientific use.

In order to be in possession of seed, cannabis plants and marijuana in excess of the existing legal limits, you will have to apply for a license through the National Counselor on Narcotics (CNE) to be allowed to cultivate or through the Ministry of Health and Social Protection (MSPS) to manufacture and export.

The government passed legislation (Ley 30 de 1986) allowing citizens to possess a personal amount of no more than 20 grams of marijuana and to grow no more than 22 plants. However, the government failed to follow through with regulations for commercialism. This new law makes it possible to do so. In fact, Colombian entrepreneurs have already begun manufacturing medical marijuana products hoping to be able to export to the US and other countries where there is a growing medical marijuana industry.

None of this would have been possible without the participation of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. This is where marijuana was first introduced to the country back in the 1940’s. Marijuana is a local crop that has helped develop cities such as Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Riochacha. With the help of cachacos relocating from the interior during the civil war (1948-1958) to the Santa Marta area, the Sierra Nevadas became ground zero for plantation.

History of Marijuana on Colombia’s Caribbean coast

First reports of clandestine marijuana plantations on the Northern coast began to appear in Colombian press around 1945.

At the time, there were many reports of coastal peasants and day laborers, some as young as 11, who had been smoking marijuana for the energy, strength, and spirit to work harder. Often, they’d smoke early in the morning before starting their work day and again during breaks with agua panela.

The 1950’s and 60’s were a growth period for the industry on the coast with various references in the media. A confidential report by the Ministry of Exterior Relations in 1952 reported that Santa Marta had become an important hub from which marijuana was being exported to various ports in Florida. This was solidified later, during the 1960’s, with reports filtering back to the US from Peace Corps volunteers who had arrived on the Northern coast and had inadvertently begun to learn about the marijuana grown there. In fact, it was said that Marimberos were selling marijuana to North Americans during this time as well.

The early 1970’s brought the Caribbean Colombian coast into the spotlight as it became the number one supplier of marijuana to the United States, responsible for 70% of the product in that country. Although this drove the DEA to enact heavy restrictions along the US-Mexican border, the cartels found ways around them and the avalanche of new money into the port cities of Barranquilla, Riohacha, and Santa Marta continued.

A new market had flustered with bananas and other traditional crops being exchanged for marijuana. Land was also being bought up in droves by the mafia for marijuana production as well as by other businesses in the area. It was making people rich. However, when cocaine was introduced in the early 80s, demand skyrocketed and it quickly took marijuana’s place as the prime narcotic export.

Colombian Gold

Santa Marta Gold, or Colombian Gold, continues to be one of Colombia’s most popular strains. Simon Bolivar was said to have traded it for other medicinal plants during his travels throughout the Amazons. This strong sativa is perfect for musicians, writers, and artists because of the cerebral high it produces, as well as being perfect for people with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic illnesses.

As the export business takes off next year under this newly signed decree, it won’t be surprising if Colombian Gold revitalizes the marijuana production on Colombia’s Caribbean coast once again.

The Ministerio de Salud’s press release included a graph on how medical marijuana will work in Colombia.

MINSALUD medical marijuana