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Drugs

Where Exactly Is Australia Up to on Legalising Weed?

It's been a big few months for local weed. Here's a handy guide to what's happening around the country and who's set to get rich.

by Vincent Dwyer
07 November 2016, 5:57am

A NSW-based Mullaways crop, before the company's recent expansion. Image via.

Soon you can watch an entire TV show about the legalisation of weed around the globe. WEEDIQUETTE comes to SBS VICELAND from November 15.

The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 finally came into effect on October 31, allowing Australian businesses to apply for licenses to start cultivating medicinal weed.

It's an exciting prospect, but not without fine print. Because while Australia now has a national framework for legal weed, each state interprets it differently, while some still ignore it entirely. With this in mind, let's look at how close the country is to ending marijuana prohibition, and how business is preparing to cash in.

First up: state laws.

In April 2016, Victoria became the first state to legalise weed with the Access to Medical Cannabis Bill 2016. This restricted the use of cannabis to young children suffering from epilepsy.

New South Wales soon followed suit and in July became the first state to secure a licence to start growing, although with sales restricted to patients suffering only certain illnesses. Standard treatments must also be shown to be no longer viable.

The Queensland State Government joined NSW and Victoria in October, passing the most flexible laws in the country. These provide cannabis products to patients of any age, suffering from a long list of illnesses. Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick said his state's laws are "leading Australia in providing medicinal cannabis treatment for those who need it most."

Western Australia's laws remain fairly strict, but doctors were approved to start prescribing medicinal cannabis from the end of October. This comes with the usual list of caveats present in other states.

Tasmania is also set to green light similar laws by April 2017, while there's a strong push afoot in South Australia to loosen the state's already relatively loose marijuana legislation.


A trailer for shows on SBS VICELAND, including Weediquette.

This legislative domino effect has been beneficial not just for ailing patients, but for overseas companies keen to get in on a fledgling industry.

Canadian group Tilray has been at the forefront. Back in March, the New South Wales Government and the University of Sydney announced a partnership with Tilray to begin clinical trials for chemotherapy patients.

"In Australia, we think that medical cannabis has potential to be a billion-dollar industry," Tilray's president Brendan Kennedy told news.com.au. "We intend to break ground with an Australian facility in the next 12 months."

The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) has also seen an influx of foreign interest. Last month, Creso Pharma raised $5 million after debuting on the ASX. Co-founder Adam Blumenthal told The Australian his company had seen opportunity in Australia following increased advocacy and legislation changes. "There's definitely going to be a market for medical marijuana here," he said.

But what about the home-grown companies that have been here since day one? Last year Organic Therapeutic Pty Ltd became Australia's first medical cannabis research organisation when it formed out of an underground operation by the name of Mullaways. Organic Therapeutic is now hoping to begin exports to overseas buyers, assuming their products are approved by the Office of Drug Control (ODC).

"At this stage the ODC is not allowing exports from Australian companies," Organic Therapeutic's Director of Sales and Marketing Anthony Coffey told VICE. But as he explained, developing partnerships with overseas buyers, particularly those based in China, will be too lucrative to pass up. "It will exceed exports relating to the current mining boom within a decade," he said.

Weediquette correspondent, Krishna Andavolu, poses with the show's namesake plant.

An interesting local twist is also in the way mining companies have been turning to marijuana as a potential source of revenue. Last year, Perth-based mining junior Erin Resources acquired Israeli research group MGC Global Ltd—now known as MGC Pharmaceuticals—to further its transition into the medicinal marijuana industry.

Fellow WA business Capital Mining Ltd have been retooling for medicinal marijuana, after acquiring a 24 percent stake in Canadian company Broken Coast Cannabis. This was followed by Gleneagle Gold—another public mining company—teeming up with Californian medical marijuana group Aunt Zelda, and e-listing on the ASX as Zelda Therapeutics Ltd. Now the company wants to raise funds for preclinical research and human trials.

As for individuals looking to start their own business, the playing field isn't looking so level. Anthony Coffey believes there won't be more than a handful of smaller companies applying for permits. "The requirements relating to license approval are convoluted and restrictive, and substantial finance is required," he says. "(Hopefully) the ODC will relax the license restrictions over time but this will not happen anytime soon."

Put simply, you're better off buying shares in pre-existing companies, or rejigged mining corporations with the capital to get approvals. These can range between 3.3 cents and 25 cents a share.

The Australian industry may be waking up, but we're not Colorado just yet.

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