The next few blogs will focus on the status of medical cannabis in Australia. Despite its enormous land mass (it is the seventh largest country in the world) it has a population of just 24.6 million. Canada, by comparison, is fifth in land mass and has a population of 36.7 million.
The comparison of Canada and Australia came up frequently during the CannaTech Sydney Conference held in late October of 2018. Both countries have medical cannabis programs although Canada’s program pre-dates that of Australia by more than fifteen years. Today the medical cannabis program in Canada has over 300,000 patients but as recently as 2016 it was, like Australia, serving less than 2,000. The reason lies in infrastructure as well as the law. It is also important to put in a healthy dose of physician-reticence which takes time to diminish.
The Australian government “legalized” medical cannabis in 2016 by removing federal prohibitions and giving Australia’s states the authority to establish programs. While many envisioned a U.S. style states-rights future, the fact was that the Australian federal government hadn’t exactly relinquished its control of cannabis and roadblocks appeared as patients traveled the road to “legal” cannabis.
There can be no patients without product and manufacturing legal cannabis became the priority. According to a speaker at the recent CannaTech conference, the Office of Drug Control hired a consulting firm to provide them with information on what to expect in terms of manufacturing and patient applicants. The prestigious company, “one of the big four” according to John Skerritt, Deputy Secretary of Australia’s Department of Health, wildly and widely missed the mark. Expecting a few dozen applicants the ODC set up an office based on the consulting firm’s projections and was promptly swamped by 190 requests to either manufacture or research cannabis. To date Australia has authorized twenty-one licenses for growing cannabis, twelve to research, and sixteen to manufacture product. Obviously these numbers must increase if Australia is to reach its full patient potential.
Additionally, on the patient side, the application system is almost draconian, creating hurdles that only the truly desperate will struggle to get over. Sadly, many will fail and return to Australia’s black market. No doubt the purveyors of the black market could teach the Australian government a thing or two about growing and distributing cannabis but the ODC will not go that route and so patients suffer.
Nevertheless there are rays of light Down Under. Our next few blogs will look at the recent meeting of investors held as part of CannaTech Sydney 2018, the cannabis education opportunities that are popping up, and two organizations that are fighting for patients to legally receive cannabis. ❖