The Asia Pacific boss of Canopy Growth has insisted Australia needs to address the affordability of medicinal cannabis, as he pointed to Germany as a market that has “nailed” the subsidy issue.
Ben Quirin, the Melbourne-based managing director of Canopy Growth APAC, said the lack of financial help in Australia compared to the insurance-led reimbursements for medicinal cannabis in Germany, was the “critical difference” between the frameworks of each nation.
He told a conference that reducing the cost for patients and stepping up the knowledge of doctors were key to helping Australians access the drugs they need.
Quirin also suggested the illicit market will continue to hold a “dominant” position in Australia as long as there are no regulations in place to tackle the issue.
“The main thing is how we get to a position where we can drive better affordability for patient access,” he said. “That is the biggest thing I look at. If a patient wants to adopt medicinal cannabis and the doctor says it is the right pathway, affordability becomes a barrier.
“I think Germany really nailed this properly from the outset [where] insurers are subsidising [medicinal cannabis]. Affordability we know is very much a topic across the board and this is addressed under that mechanism.”
Among the reasons for the sometimes prohibitive retail price is the cost to manufacturers in bringing product to market. Hitting the exacting GMP standards, along with other requirements, doesn’t come cheap, Quirin said.
“I hear people say ‘but it’s easy to grow cannabis and to produce a final product’,” he told the discussion. The reality is far different, he said.
The education of doctors also continues to be an area of focus, and needs to be “looked at more closely”, Quirin added.
In addition to getting in front of practising GPs, curriculums need to be updated to ensure “up and coming doctors also have medicinal cannabis as an acceptable option”.
Turning to recreational cannabis and ACT’s move earlier this year to decriminalise small scale personal use, Quirin said it has helped “change the conversation”.
“People are a lot more curious. In 2017 there was nothing in the media, but now we are starting to see people trying to understand how we address the illicit trade. At this point in time, as long as we don’t have the appropriate regulations in place, the illicit market will continue to operate, continue to dominate and own that share of the potential [of medicinal cannabis].”