By Bart Schaneman
Adam Miller, founder of an Australian cannabis consultancy, stands in the center of a market about to take root.
In February, the Australian government paved the way for the legalization of medical marijuana, with regulators poised to issue MMJ rules and licenses in a matter of days.
The Australian Office of Drug Control will publish medical cannabis regulations on Oct. 30 and start issuing licenses on Nov. 1. Until now, the Australian government has permitted only medical trials for MMJ.
That could open the door for entrepreneurs and marijuana business owners to develop international partnerships and collaborations in a developed country with more than 23 million people.
Miller’s Sydney-based cannabis consultancy, BuddingTech, focuses on technology and innovation. He spoke with Marijuana Business Daily about his expectations for legal medical marijuana in Australia and what that could mean for the global cannabis community as a whole.
Do you know when patients might start receiving medical marijuana?
This depends on how long it will take for cultivators and manufacturers to obtain a license, set up their facilities and start producing medicine. Additionally, another factor to consider is doctors’ willingness to prescribe medicine to patients.
Australia already has several clinical trials in place for 2017. So from a research perspective, there will be patients who receive medicine for research purposes in 2017.
However, on Oct. 30, 2016, federal legislation to enable the domestic cultivation and manufacture of cannabis for medicinal and related research purposes will come into effect. This is a major step forward for medicinal cannabis in Australia.
How do you evaluate the business opportunities for U.S. companies in the Australian market?
The Australian government is looking to position itself as a global leader in the medicine of cannabis. This in turn will create an opportunity for entrepreneurs and technologists to be active with government in their pursuit to build this industry. The government is also very focused on its innovation agenda and provides support to groups looking to contribute to the development of newly emerging industries.
Like any new industry, there will be many opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter and add value. It’s all about timing and understanding the market needs.
Do you have any sense of the size of the available market? What does the black market look like in Australia?
Medical cannabis is set to help tens of thousands of patients in Australia suffering from medical conditions including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
However, demand for medicinal cannabis in Australia will depend on which conditions and symptoms are approved for medicinal cannabis treatment, recommended dosages and the range and type of approved medicinal cannabis products.
In Australia, the increasing demand for medicinal cannabis has created a vehicle for the black market and home cultivators.
As many patients are incapable of growing cannabis themselves, the only option available to them is the black market. The main concerns expressed by patients I have spoken with is the poor, inconsistent quality of cannabis they receive.
Do you anticipate New Zealand will follow suit?
Yes. The prime minister has stated that they are waiting to see how Australia implements a medical cannabis framework. I predict they follow.
What are some of the main hurdles Australian cannabis growers have overcome?
At this stage, the main hurdle Australian cannabis growers face is being able to afford a license.
There will be significant costs attached to obtaining a license, and the Office of Drug Control will need to ensure that any group applying to cultivate or manufacture cannabis can stand to lose money during the first few years of operation.
The government wants to avoid all risk that product may be directed to the black market by groups that cannot afford to stay in business.
Are there any big unknowns out there right now?
The biggest unknown is if doctors will actually prescribe cannabis to their patients. Without the support of the medical community this industry will not take off.
Do you have any sense of what the conditions list for medical marijuana might look like?
The government has yet to announce the specific patient groups, but from my understanding here are the areas of most interest:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Cancer pain
- Palliative care
- AIDS nausea/vomiting
- Refractory epilepsy
- Neuropathic pain
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Psych conditions, e.g. PTSD
- Rheumatologic conditions
- Tourettes syndrome
What concerns do you have about the government’s proposed national oversight system?
Our concern is that it’s vitally important to ensure the oversight does not hinder innovation or make it unnecessarily difficult to engage with the industry as an entrepreneur, a doctor or a patient.
What will play a huge part in this is communication between regulators and key stakeholders, something we aim to play a part in.
Is the industry taking steps to ensure medical marijuana doesn’t become prohibitively expensive?
Yes. People like Lucy Haslem (a pioneering advocate for medicinal cannabis) have been at the forefront of the development of this space. Lucy is doing everything in her power to ensure that patients are given compassionate access to medical cannabis. We have a long way to go, but this is a movement which has been driven by passionate people.
Australia has a world-leading health care system that is designed to provide all citizens with the best quality of care, and I’m confident that system will help to provide medicinal cannabis to the people who need it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]