So, You Want to Grow Medicinal Marijuana in Australia

Here's everything you need to know about getting a license to grow medicine.

15 November 2016, 12:00am

Photo via Flickr user Bob Doran.

You'll soon be able to watch our show on the science and politics of weed. WEEDIQUETTE is coming to VICELAND, on SKY Channel 13, Sky Go and On Demand from December 1.

On October 30, 2016, it became legal to grow cannabis in Australia—for medicinal purposes only, of course. But becoming a grower won't be as simple as walking into a doctor's office complaining of "night blindness" or dropping a couple of marijuana seeds into the planter box on your balcony.

Unlike the US, Australia has taken a very top down approach to medical marijuana—legalising at the federal level first, and then letting the states add their own regulations as they go. In many ways, it could make for a neater system, one focused on critically ill patients and medical research. But it's also likely to be a lot more bureaucratic.

As Anthony Coffey, director of Organic Therapeutic, told VICE, "The requirements relating to license approval are convoluted and restrictive, substantial finance is required...this will ensure that most applicants, especially smaller growers, will not meet the requirements. I do not believe there will be more than a handful of companies applying for a license at this stage."

Organic Therapeutic is one of the few applicants that are. Although the company's history may pose a challenge, given its links to Tony Bower—a marijuana grower who's been helping epilepsy and cancer patients in Australia access medical cannabis unlawfully for more than 13 years.

Luckily for Organic Therapeutic, the Narcotic Drugs Act has specific provisions that "allow persons who may have previously been involved in the use or supply of cannabis for compassionate or medicinal purposes only to participate in the medicinal cannabis scheme." This means those who've been public advocates for supplying medical cannabis, like Tony Bower or Lucy Haslam, won't be punished under the new laws, in theory.

A trailer for the shows coming soon to VICELAND on SKY, including WEEDIQUETTE.

We say in theory, because one of the first hurdles potential growers have to pass is the Office of Drug Control's "fit and proper person" test. It's meant to ensure you are "an individual of good repute," who won't be tempted to sell your marijuana crop on the black market.

The test has some formal aspects, like a police check, but is also takes into account who your friends, family, connections, and business associates are. Essentially, the government is trying to access whether you have any links to organised crime.

Another thing the Office of Drug Control will consider is whether or not your business can stay stable and secure. For example, you must prove that you've got agreements with manufacturers that are willing to take the raw cannabis crop you grow and turn it into medical cannabis products.

Additionally, there are strict regulations around how much security your crop will require—while it's growing, being transported, and even analysed. "The hope for many companies is that the Office of Drug Control will relax the license restrictions over time," explains Anthony from Organic Therapeutic. "But this will not happen in the near future." For the time being, even if you're granted a medical cannabis licence, you're only halfway there.

The Office of Drug Control also issues permits which strictly outline the type (and quantity) of cannabis that can be cultivated. It also dictates who you must pass the product onto, once it's grown. That's to ensure Australia doesn't end up overproducing medical cannabis, and doesn't violate the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961. If we do, the country's entire medical cannabis industry could be in jeopardy.

So if you've got a bunch of money, no criminal ties, and connections with companies who'll be producing medicinal cannabis pharmaceuticals, you too can become a marijuana grower in Australia. But if hundreds of pages of forms aren't your thing, there's always the broader medical marijuana industry that's springing up around legalisation.

Adam Miller graduated from an entrepreneurship degree in 2009, and worked in tech for the past six years—building education, investment, and food wastage apps. But he first learned about the potentially huge market for medical marijuana through his mum.

"I was motivated by my mother's struggle with an illness that could be treated by medicinal cannabis," he told VICE about getting into the industry. "She's been in and out of hospital for the last seven years of my life."

Adam recently launched BuddingTech, a "medical cannabis incubator," that works with businesses to complement and fix problems inside the medical cannabis industry. It's a company that couldn't have existed before the legalisation of medical marijuana in Australia, and one that isn't as strictly controlled by regulation.

"Our study with Sydney University Business School [found] legalising medical cannabis in Australia may build an industry initially worth $150 million per year," Adam said. "Medical cannabis has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar industry and can create thousands of skilled jobs, generating tens of millions in tax and foreign investment."

In the US, legal marijuana is the fastest growing industry in the economy. This year it's expected to rake in more than $6 billion in sales. However, Adam warns anyone who's looking to get into the medical cannabis game that the local industry will be shaped by "the conditions and symptoms that are approved for medicinal cannabis treatment, and the range and type of approved medicinal cannabis products."

Unlike the model in the US, the Australian medical cannabis industry is likely to be tightly controlled from crop production, right through to prescriptions. Sorry guys.

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