A leading government scientist has called for Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia (MCIA) to draw up a cultivation research strategy to address the challenges facing the sector.

Dr Philip Wright, chief scientist at the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), said the industry body should take a prominent research role and exploit the ‘unique strengths’ offered by Australia’s background in plant sciences.

The Department of Primary Industries is conducting its own research into cannabis cultivation techniques

Addressing the MCIA ACannabis EVOLVE conference, Dr Wright advised the industry to not only learn from the growing body of international research, but to leverage internal expertise.  

“The mark of a maturing industry is having its own coherent research strategy which is making sure the industry is able to articulate its research needs,” he said.

“My observations would be that we should be building off a deep science base we have in Australia in plant sciences.

“One of the key things for an organisation like MCIA is that not only is it important for there to be an industry voice, rather than individual company voices, talking to government regulators… but there is also a strong need for a coherent research strategy that is industry led, industry driven

“I guess I am hinting – or maybe even suggesting – that MCIA perhaps could consider… an overarching strategy for cultivation research in Australia.”

The industry should explore the “uniquely Australian challenges” and what research can be carried out to address them, Dr Wright said, stressing that Australia has “enormous strengths in plant sciences”.

While not elaborating on what those unique challenges may be, he said: “There is a lot that can be learned… and a huge capability in Australia that I believe can give the Australian industry an enormous competitor advantage if it can be harnessed.”

Dr Philip Wright: the world has moved on

Earlier in his address to delegates, Dr Wright, who chairs the national research and innovation committee and is a member of the Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal use of Cannabis, praised the industry for its progress.

“I don’t think any of us five years ago working in this space could have imagined how rapidly the industry has developed in Australia,” he said.

Along with the creation of an MCIA-led research strategy, Dr Wright said the local industry should take heed of international research that has snowballed in recent years.

While there was little evidence to support cannabis cultivation five years ago, there is now a “fabulous spray of papers”.

“The world has moved on in a very short period of time,” he said. “The amount of knowledge available now compared to five years ago is enormous.

“It’s fabulous to see the work out there internationally and Australia needs to be aware that there will be fantastic work done internationally.

“We need to make sure we are in touch with that work, that we’re pulling it into Australia, that it’s accessible by the industry and I would argue that a key component of doing that is have a strong research capability that can translate what is happening elsewhere into Australia.”

Dr Wright flagged some of the work being carried out by the DPI including non-chemical approaches in growing production systems and how best to manipulate and maximise yields.

Commenting on Dr Wright’s presentation, MCIA chair Peter Crock said: “Its great to see leading researchers calling for this.

“We have initiated discussions with Agrifutures regarding the development of a Research, Development and Extension plan and we look forward to working with the research community to develop not only a plan, but also a stocktake of the research underway.”

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