Cannabis production licence delays frustrate

Cannabis production licence delays prove frustrating


Horticulture
GROWING: Medicinal cannabis production is now legal in Australia but there is a significant wait to get the proper licences.

GROWING: Medicinal cannabis production is now legal in Australia but there is a significant wait to get the proper licences.

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Australia could be missing lucrative medicinal cannabis export opportunities.

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THOSE in the protected cropping industry looking to diversify into medicinal cannabis production will have to wait.

And then wait some more.

The significant lag time for licences and permits was one of the bugbears shared by horticultural research scientist, Emily Rigby in her presentation at the Costa Protected Cropping Australia Conference 2019 at the Gold Coast in July.

Ms Rigby is the director of research and compliance at Cannatrek, a company converging research, cultivation, green technology and distribution within the Australian medicinal cannabis industry.

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She described cannabis as a "pharmacy in a flower" with more than 700 compounds, 144 different cannabinoids, more than 100 different terpenes, plus flavanoids and polyphenols.

Medicinal cannabis is legislated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Office of Drug Control (ODC).

The main medical avenue for cannabis is pain relief. Ms Rigby said most patients in Australia were accessing it through the black market.

Possible medical cannabis products include dried flower, vapourisation, whole plant extracts, oils/drops, capsules, oral mucosal sprays, topical ointments, patches and edibles.

Some of the licences which may be required for medicinal cannabis production include a medical cannabis licence, cannabis research licence, manufacture licence, import and distribution licence and export licence.

Growers also need to comply with the "fit and proper persons" requirements.

Ms Rigby said the ODC application licence and permit process was complex.

"The ODC can be a bit OCD about processing applications," she said.

NEED: Emily Rigby, director of research and compliance, Cannatrek, says Australia is at risk of missing export opportunities if the medicinal cannabis licence approval process is not sped up.

NEED: Emily Rigby, director of research and compliance, Cannatrek, says Australia is at risk of missing export opportunities if the medicinal cannabis licence approval process is not sped up.

"The evaluation phase is the one that really upsets."

An evaluation can take 195 days but if more information is required, the clock stops on that evaluation.

A minor change adds 10 working days to an application and a major change can reset the clock, according to Ms Rigby.

She said the ODC currently has hundreds of licence applications "sitting on their desks", the result of an overly ambitious processing commitment and under-staffing.

It is not going to fix everything, it is not for everyone. - Emily Rigby, Cannatrek

"I don't know what rock they were living under," she said.

Ms Rigby said the industry was looking at producing commercial tissue culture soon which will enable it to keep genetic material.

At present, there are very few Australian companies that can supply product to Australians, something which Ms Rigby described as frustrating and showed how the industry had stagnated in Australia.

"Australia is going to miss out if we don't move more quickly," Ms Rigby said.

"It is not going to fix everything, it is not for everyone.

"It is not a last line of treatment. It should be available for trial."

She said Australia also had a fantastic opportunity to develop its product for export, although that would only be for processed products, not raw cannabis.

Growing Challenges

RED tape and regulation aren't the only challenges the cannabis industry faces.

Ms Rigby said in order to be long-term competitive, Australia would need to look at automation within growing operations, particularly as more countries come online with medicinal production and the global price drops.

She also said crop hygiene will be critical in being a point of difference for Australian product.

The issues of illegal production and use also dog the industry, with many in the community unsure of what to think.

"We have a long way to go to educate our doctors, our public and our politicians," Ms Rigby said.

The opportunities within medicinal cannabis production were given significant focus at the PCA Conference with more than 10 sessions by a variety of speakers from both Australia and overseas.

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