Australia Wants To Be The World Number 1 in Medical Marijuana | What Needs To Happen?

June 6, 2018


Medical Marijuana In Australia

Medical Marijuana was made available in Australia relatively recently in 2016. At the time of the change, any Medical Marijuana provided to a patient in Australia had to be entirely Australian in origin. Recreational cannabis is still banned in all forms although marijuana has been decriminalized in 2 Australian States.

In Australia, as elsewhere, all exports have to be done under the guidelines set by the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB.) For example, the INCB must be informed of any trades undertaken between countries involving the substance. However, nationally, over the last 2 years, the rules have been relaxed further, allowing export of the product under license provided by a government regulator. Now, theoretically, Medical cannabis can be used in restricted circumstances, such as for palliative care, for people who suffer from AIDS and to alleviate pain in cancer sufferers.

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Unfortunately, progress towards easy access, for patients, has been slow. At the start of 2018, only a total of 350 people had been prescribed legal Medical Cannabis.

Despite the practical difficulties, Australian Health Minister, Greg Hunt has made it clear he would like to see Australia become with world’s largest supplier of exported Medical Marijuana. The question is, what would need to happen in order for Australia to achieve that lofty goal?

The UK and Canada currently supply the most medical marijuana

Success in growing marijuana exports elsewhere provides some useful hints. The world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis in 2016 was the UK, although Canada seems set to leapfrog it soon. It is possible that Canada’s imminent legalization of cannabis for recreational use, may strain existing domestic supply and offer an opportunity for other exporting countries.

In both countries, local governments have made it easy to obtain a license to grow and export the product. It is these factors, alongside a rapidly evolving market and increasing social acceptance of marijuana as a medically useful treatment which has seen export volumes increase.

Medical Cannabis is a market worth pursuing

Current forecasts for the value of the market are impressive. One suggests that the Australian market for Medical Cannabis will quadruple to $1bn by 2020. The global market could be worth $55bn by as soon as 2025. Indeed, the single announcement about the easing of export rules caused the stock price of Australian companies which produce medical cannabis to surge by as much as 50%.

So, what needs to change to make Australia the world’s number 1?

Australia already has a track record of successful exports with similar products. Australia provides 50% of the world’s poppies for use in the production of pharmaceutical opioid such as morphine.

To have any serious hope of leading the world in production, however, 3 things need to change.

  • The government needs to simplify rules around licensing:Australian legislation on the matter of medical marijuana, as evidenced by the limited number of prescriptions that have been granted, is a mess. Manufacturers are confused by the number of Federal statutes which have to be obliged and by the differing legal conditions which are often different in every state. It is possible to have effective regulation, as US states like Colorado have shown, which tracks marijuana products from the field to the shelf, without tying marijuana producers in to knots. In fact, a slew of software engineers have produced and are now optimizing web based tracking mechanisms to make the reporting the government needs quicker to produce. Australia needs to follow their lead.
  • Australian regulators need to make it easier for Australian Medical Cannabis producers to get the funding they need:Regulators in Australia need to make it easier for potential growers to locate the often substantial financial investment required to build growing facilitates. One company which has successfully navigated the minefield is Cann Group, Australia’s Medical Cannabis poster child. The size of the investment they secured paints the picture of the size of the problem faced with a similar requirement. Cann Group needed millions to build the 15,000 square meter facility, enough to provide Medical Marijuana to nearly 16,00 patients.
  • Australia needs to Invest more in Medical Marijuana research:Growing the market for legal Medicinal Cannabis exports requires that much more medical research takes place. Unfortunately, the industry is stuck in a ‘Catch 22’ – where the research in to cannabis doesn’t exist because it has been illegal and it can’t be prescribed because there is often insufficient legitimate medical evidence to warrant a Doctor signing off on it. Australia needs to get on the front foot and invest in taking the lead on medical marijuana testing – setting an example for the rest of the world and demonstrating that the Australian government believes in the medical qualities of the plant.


Bringing it all together

There is a clear disparity between Australian government’s lip service, paid to a bold ambition of being Number 1 in the field of global medical cannabis exports, and activity on the ground, as experienced by real doctors and patients.

However, medical cannabis exports is in the unusual position of being a policy that seems to enjoy support from both sides of the political spectrum, something that bodes well for the industry. Anthony Alberici, a frontbencher for the Opposition Australian Labor party has described the changes to Medical Marijuana Legislation as ‘sensible’, a veritable gushing of support in Australia’s bi-partisan political system.

The hope is that the change in medical cannabis export rules stimulates the marijuana industry as a whole. Australia can contribute through leading medical cannabis research, making investment monies easier to locate and eliminating red tape. These changes are a small price to pay to enable the enormous tax, employment and social benefits that true leadership in the area has garnered elsewhere in the world. Unless Australia takes these steps, it seems likely that existing exporters like the UK and Canada will have stolen the prize before Australia arrives to compete.

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