Medicinal cannabis in Australia: an emerging industry
This edition of the Agribusiness Bulletin takes a look at the emerging industry of medicinal cannabis as a result of legislative changes in Australia that enables authorised doctors to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with specific medical conditions, or through the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s special access scheme.
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Medicinal cannabis in Australia: an emerging industry
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests medicinal cannabis can provide benefits for certain patients. Those with terminal cancer, chronic pain, AIDS/HIV, and children with intractable forms of epilepsy may experience benefits such as pain relief, nausea control and increased appetite. This body of evidence has led to the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in a number of countries, including Canada, Israel and Germany, along with some states in the United States.
Now, Australia can be added to that list. In October 2016, legislative changes came into effect legalising medicinal cannabis in Australia, meaning that authorised doctors are now able to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with specific medical conditions, or through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)’s special access scheme. State Governments have also passed legislation which permits medicinal cannabis to be prescribed to certain patient groups or under certain circumstances.
Specifically, only producers registered with the TGA and approved by the Office of Drug Control (ODC) will be able to cultivate cannabis products, conduct clinical trials and develop therapeutic products in Australia. In July 2017, the ABC reported that the TGA had approved 12 businesses within Australia to grow and manufacture the drug. Since legalising the practice in October 2016, the Department of Health has received over 75 applications1.
While Australian produced medicinal cannabis products are not yet available (there are legal channels for imported products, but a number of patients currently rely on black-market products)2, the growing number of approvals indicates that this will no longer be the case within the next year or two. Researchers from the University of Sydney estimated in 2016 that the Australian domestic market for medicinal cannabis could be worth more than $100 million a year3.
While the Government has not yet announced a limit to the number of licenses that will be granted, the ODC has (as at September 2017) granted licences to eight companies to cultivate and produce medicinal cannabis and licences to four companies to manufacture it.
Multiple varieties of medicinal cannabis are required to be grown as different varieties treat different conditions. Crops will require strong security - much stronger security than that of commercial poppies – and strong secrecy as to their location. This is because there is more of a ‘black market’ in Australia for cannabis than poppies, while poppies require processing and some varieties can kill. Vehicles of growers transporting the medicinal cannabis will also have to be secured and the route monitored for potential threats.
Which States are participating in this emerging industry?
Tasmania is viewed by many as an ideal location to grow medicinal cannabis, with its fertile soils and ideal climatic conditions that would allow the full range of cannabis varieties to be grown. Tasmania is also Australia’s largest producer of poppies. That industry is worth over $290 million4, and there is optimism that medicinal cannabis can also become a driver of employment and economic activity in the state. Entrants to the Tasmanian industry are hopeful that crops grown in Tasmania will eventually be distributed throughout Australia, and potentially exported, subject to regulations in each state. As well as requiring approvals from the ODC, companies in Tasmania also need approval from the State Government to cultivate, manufacture and research medicinal cannabis. In May 2017, Troy Langam, Managing Director of Tasmanian Botanics advised the ABC that his company was the first within Australia to be granted all three licenses.5 Tasmanian Botanics are hopeful to have seeds planted by the end of the year and to cultivate in 2018.
As the first State to legalise medicinal cannabis, Victoria is also well-positioned to become a major cannabis-producing state. The reforms, introduced in 2016, enable defined groups of patients to legally access medicinal cannabis in Victoria. In 2017, children with severe intractable epilepsy will be the first group of patients to be granted access. In March 2017, the ODC issued the first licence to commercially grow medicinal cannabis for the Victorian market to the Cann Group, who are due to have harvest the first crop in their Melbourne facility in August 2017.6
In Queensland, Medifarm, has also been issued with a licence from the ODC to cultivate, produce and manufacture medicinal cannabis at its Sunshine Coast facility. Its founder, Adam Benjamin, is hopeful that the first crop will be available next year to service the Queensland market, which consist of up to 100,000 patients.7
In Western Australia, there is also promise that locally-cultivated medicinal cannabis will soon be available, with the ODC granting a licence to grow medical cannabis to AusCann. The business announced earlier this year that it has approval for a secure outdoor cultivation facility in WA, and hopes to have its first locally grown product ready in 2018.8
Backed by evidence of its efficacy in treating certain medical conditions, its recent legalisation in Australia and the four states planning for production, medicinal cannabis is an exciting new sector to watch.
Shelley Brooks, Partner, with thanks to Rob Leith and Alyssa Cameron for their contributions.
1. Carcase is the term used in Australian agriculture for the body of a slaughtered animal; the alternative form of the term is carcass, which is more commonly used outside of Australian agriculture.
2. “Finding technologies which measure up”. Meat and Livestock Australia: Feedback (May/June 2017) 12-15.
3. “DEXA Technology Revolutionising the Beef Industry”. Teys Australia. (17 May 2017).
4. For more information, please see Stone, M and Turner, A. (2012). “Use of Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) with Non-Human Vertebrates: Application, Challenges, and Practical Considerations for Research and Clinical Practice”, 99-101.
5. “Development of supply chain objective measurement (OM) strategy & value proposition to stakeholders.” Greenleaf, Miracle Dog, Scott Williams Consulting. Commissioned by Meat and Livestock Australia. 8 May 2017.
6. “Meat processors say rollout of objective carcase measurement technology not prudent until commercially tested.” The Age, 27 February 2017.
Published: October 2017