What’s Going On With Medicinal Weed In Australia?
This multi-million-dollar farm in New South Wales is home to thousands of cannabis plants. They’re all completely legal and are being grown for medical purposes.
It’s actually only one of the few farms growing totally Australian cultivated cannabis, even though thousands of Aussie patients are now using it.
So, What Does Australia’s Post-legalisation Medical Cannabis Industry Actually Look Like Right Now?
The facility near Armidale is run by The Australian Natural Therapeutics Group.
It’s the first company in NSW to be granted a manufacturing license to produce medical cannabis oil on a commercial scale.
We spoke to Cannabis Consultant Rhys Cohen about this.
Rhys Cohen: “So the Australian Natural Therapeutics Group, they’re a private company. They’ve been sort of working behind the scenes for a while on this and it’s really encouraging to see them progress as quickly as they have been able to.”
Before ANTG, in 2019 Queensland had the first fully operational, licensed farm in Australia. And ever since, the number of legal farms have been slowly growing.
How Did We Get To This Point?
Medicinal cannabis was actually legalised back in 2016. Meaning companies were allowed to start cultivating medicines made from cannabis products within Australia. And they could also legally import genetic materials like seeds, from overseas and bring them back here to grow.
Rhys provides advice to cannabis companies on how to operate in Australia and he told me that in the four years since legislation passed, most farms have been used for research purposes only, and that it’s taken a long time to reach these commercial production and distribution stages.
RC: “The step from being able to cultivate a cannabis plant through to being able to provide a cannabis medicine to a patient – that’s quite a long, yeah a big gap there.”
What Took Us So Long?
Australia’s medicinal cannabis regulation is complex.
Doctors need permission from the federal government before they can consult a patient who wants to try medical cannabis, and sometimes the specific drug they want to prescribe might not have finished going through the normal approval procedure.
Rhys explained that these strict regulations are what have prevented most doctors from seeking authority to prescribe in the first place.
But things are changing.
Now in NSW any GP can request authority to prescribe a cannabis medicine for a health condition. And there’s a lot more transparency about what doctors can and can’t provide across all states.
RC: “We have gone from having about 10,000 Australians taking prescribed cannabis at the end of last year to about 30,000 as of now … I think it’s reasonable to assume that will double next year.”
Even with patient access failures, Rhys told me that by the end of this year Aussies will have spent roughly 90 million dollars on cannabis medication.
New facilities like the ANTG’s in Armidale, will also mean more locally made products being brought to Australia’s market and eventually exported overseas. And there are estimations that the industry could create up to 50,000 jobs by 2028.
The legalisation of personal cultivation and consumption in the ACT was also a significant win for the industry. While it didn’t reach a commercial scale, Rhys argues it was a symbolic moment that acknowledged cannabis as a legal drug.
Which is what experts are hoping might be the case for what’s going on in New Zealand, where a national referendum will decide whether cannabis should be legalised for growing, selling and consumption.
It’s not a totally unexpected move for an already progressive country, but it’s one that Rhys is hoping will influence Australia’s position.
After all, when New Zealand legalised same sex marriage, Australia eventually did the same.
The Australian government is definitely taking the steps to make medicinal cannabis more available for patients. But before it can be made a totally viable commercial industry, there’s still a lot of research to be done around minimising risk.
Ultimately, the industry’s potential net worth and ability to provide significant job opportunities should be seen as another positive, alongside the fact that medicinal weed could really make a difference to thousands of Australians who may find relief by using it.