Global Cannabis: Australia

Australia koalas

Australian marijuana entrepreneurs are hoping the nation’s cannabis exports someday reach the prominence of the country’s renowned wild koalas. Photo by Rob Cicchetti

Milestones in the Medical Cannabis Program

The first cultivation license was issued in 2018.


Key Laws and Regulations

  • Narcotic Drugs Act of 1967 (and 2016 amendment)
  • Therapeutic Goods Act of 1989
  • Therapeutic Goods Regulations of 1990
  • Special Access Scheme


Market Data

  • Cumulative patient approvals topped 9,300 as of June. Though the number seems small, growth is faster than Canada’s medical marijuana program in its first year.
  • Regulators so far have granted 27 licenses for medical cannabis cultivation and production.
  • Seventeen licenses have been awarded for cultivation and production for research purposes.
  • Twenty-four manufacturing licenses have been handed out.


Medical Cannabis Products Available in the Market

  • Any product can be made available in Australia, provided it meets minimum quality and safety standards.


North American Companies in the Market

Several North American companies are present through local partnerships:

  • Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis is the largest shareholder in Melbourne, Victoria-based Cann Group.
  • Ontario-based Canopy Growth is a partner and shareholder in MMJ firm AusCann Group of Victoria.
  • Ontario-based Cronos Group launched the international hub Cronos Australia in Victoria.
  • Victoria-based cannabis producer and importer Althea has a supply agreement with Ontario-based Aphria.
  • British Columbia-based AgraFlora Organics International has a large-scale greenhouse project in Australia.
  • MedReleaf Australia in Queensland is a partner of Ontario-based MedReleaf, which is wholly owned by Aurora Cannabis.


Big Picture

  • Regulators include the Office of Drug Control and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
  • Licenses cover medical cultivation and production, research (cultivation and production) and manufacturing.
  • Business opportunities exist in cultivation, import/export and the ancillary sector—but not retail, because medical cannabis is sold in pharmacies.
  • Cultivation licenses are driven by demand, so there is no cap on the number of permits issued. However, the Office of Drug Control noted: “International experience suggests that only a small number of cultivators will be necessary to meet domestic demand.”
  • Most medical cannabis supply in the country was being imported as of mid-2019. But, as Australian growers scale up production, the domestic industry is expected to be supplied locally.
  • The country eventually expects to be an export hub.
  • Regulators have approved medical cannabis to treat the following conditions: chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, refractory pediatric epilepsy, palliative care, cancer pain, neuropathic pain, spasticity from neurological conditions, anorexia and wasting associated with chronic illness (such as cancer).
  • Products manufactured in Australia must be created under a Good Manufacturing Practice license.
  • “Approved” pharmaceutical medical cannabis products listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, such as Sativex, are available via prescription. Other “unapproved” medical cannabis preparations, such as oils, tinctures and other extracts, are available via prescription through the Special Access Scheme.