The first Australian company to be licensed to cultivate and manufacture medicinal marijuana has praised the Federal Government's plan to allow exports of cannabis-based medicines.
Privately-owned and Queensland-based Medifarm is close to completing construction of a secure facility in a secret location on the Sunshine Coast.
Medifarm founder, Adam Benjamin welcomed Health Minister Greg Hunt’s ‘excellent’ export announcement.
“We consider the news another great step forward.”
Medifarm has an exclusive international intellectual property partnership with Israeli based company, Tikun Olam, which pioneered world production 12 years ago.
Tikun Olam will provide the mother stock for Medifarm’s medicinal marijuana plants.
“We’re hoping to have these first genetic materials landed within a month and local production out the farm gate within the next three to four months,” Mr Benjamin said.
“We were consulted by the Office of Drug Control, the federal licensing authority, last year about whether we were interested in exporting.
“While we think it’s a good idea, we are to treat Australian patients first and in particular we’re treating Queensland patients first.
Mr Benjamin said his company had not yet investigated export opportunities, but potential markets included Canada, South America, Germany, Holland, Spain and Israel.
Those nations already have federal frameworks in place for legalised medicinal cannabis industries.
Overseas markets could play an crucial role for Australia’s formative industry, which is not allowed to stockpile product and faces delays in securing approvals for patients to be treated.
Crop largely without psychoactive component
Medifarm conservatively hopes to produce enough medicinal cannabis products to supply up to 5,000 Australian patients this year, and contrary to many people’s conceptions, Mr Benjamin said just five per cent of the crop will contain the psychoactive compound THC.
“I think what’s very important for patients and doctors is that once they get their heads around the idea that it’s not making anyone high, it’s got other medical components to it.
“Secondly, it’s not being smoked.
“Someone might have chronic pain, another patient might have multiple sclerosis. We have all these receptors in our body that can work with the hundreds of different medical cannabis plant strains.
Mr Benjamin believed just four companies had been licensed to grow and manufacture marijuana for therapeutic use in Australia, three of which were publicly listed.
An allocation of $2.5 million has been established to setting-up the Australian Centre for Cannibinoid Clinical and Research Excellence at the University of Newcastle to coordinate federal trials.
Doctors awaiting education
Late last year, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia warned that many GPs were unprepared to prescribe medicinal cannabis, despite patients requesting access to the controversial drugs.
Anecdotally, Mr Benjamin believed just 11 scripts had been written in Queensland, four of which were for the same patient.
“I know of plenty of doctors who have attempted to prescribe it but they need to be pre-authorised by both their relevant state or territory health department and the Federal Therapeutic Goods Administration,” he said.
“That’s what’s put the handbrake on in Queensland which has the most progressive health legislation in Australia.
“GPs can prescribe it in Queensland. That’s not the case in all states.”
Mr Benjamin believed that rather than being actively reluctant, many doctors were waiting for more education.
“So in their mind, much like most of us, they’re coming out of the back of recreational concepts.
“We’re not saying this is a cure-all, but if you’re the right patient and this is the right treatment, this is a new tool in the doctors bag.
“If you’re a doctor you should be very well aware of all your tools.”
Economic boom overblown says producer
Meantime, a Nimbin hemp producer with interests in medicinal marijuana companies has poured water on claims by the Federal Health Minister that Australia could become the largest exporter of medicinal cannabis in the world.
Nimbin farmer Andrew Kavasilas said politicians were blowing hot air in claims of an economic boom.
“It’s a good call that they would like to potentially be the biggest exporter, but in reality we really are a long way from that,” Mr Kavasilas said.
He said there were only a small number of companies in the world that own a lawful source of cannabis, approved for scientific and medical research under international drug conventions.
“For instance, in the United States, all those states that are doing medical cannabis you have to understand that it’s illegal federally.
“In those states, under the US Constitution, they conducted citizens-initiated referendums that overruled that.
“There really is that bottleneck at the very top, all around the world, where researchers are in need of a lawful source of cannabis to do any kind of research so they can do clinical trials.”
The Federal Health Minister’s office has been asked for a response.
By Jennifer Nichols & Joanne Shoebridge – ABC News
Photo Credit – Jonathan Hair ABC news