EXCLUSIVE: A new industry body for Australia’s medicinal cannabis industry, the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA), has launched. 

The registered not-for-profit association will work to improve patient access to high-quality, affordable medical cannabis and speak for patients, health care professionals, researchers, cultivators, manufacturers and exporters.

AMCA is chaired by cannabis campaigner Lucy Haslam, with scientist and lawyer Teresa Nicoletti as company secretary, Gail Wiseman as general manager and registered nurse Rita Martin as deputy chair. 

The AMCA board covers a broad spectrum of the industry including manufacturing, legal, nursing, scientific research and public relations. These include consultant emergency physician David Caldicott; Ogilvy PR group managing director Leon Beswick; research fellow at NICM Health Research Institute Justin Sinclair; chief operating officer of the Australian Natural Therapeutics Group James Gaskell; and associate professor and program director at the Undergraduate Pharmacy at the University of Sydney Nial Wheate.

Speaking to Cannabiz about the launch, Teresa Nicoletti said AMCA represents the broad interests of the industry: “It’s not just about industry players, companies that have a vested interest in setting up medicinal cannabis businesses and have profitability as the goal,” she said. “We look at it more broadly because to have a viable industry, it involves a number of stakeholders including doctors, patients, nurses and caregivers.”

Teresa Nicoletti - Cannabis Australia - Cannabiz
AMCA company secretary Teresa Nicoletti

AMCA is a not-for-profit, and will initially be funded by memberships, with plans to eventually expand into training and events. “One of the big gaps in medicinal cannabis is that there is insufficient education,” said Nicoletti. “There needs to be a conversation, but that conversation needs to include education, to remove the stigma that still exists and the reticence that many doctors still have in prescribing it.”

When it comes to marketing cannabis, Nicoletti said the industry is hamstrung by the very strict rules on what you can and can’t say about medicinal cannabis. She said: “There’s a fine line between talking about medicinal cannabis for educational purposes and talking about medicinal cannabis more in a promotional context. 

“That’s an important distinction, because if it’s an educational context, it’s permissible. But if it’s then turning into a more promotional context, it’s not.”

In May, industry organisations the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia (MCIA) and the Medical Cannabis Council (MCC) announced plans to collaborate. In a statement, the two organisations issued at the time they said “the industry will be best served by having a shared vision and speaking with one voice”.

When asked if Australia has room for another industry organisation, AMCA chair Lucy Haslam said: “Initially, I didn’t think there was room. But […] it’s not like we’ve just suddenly appeared. We’re all people who’ve been working really tirelessly since 2014 to initiate the conversation in the first place, to change the law in 2016, to initiate some of the Senate inquiries that we’ve had into barriers, into patient access, and to be part of the conversation about rescheduling. 

Lucy Haslam -  Medical Cannabis Australia - Cannabiz
AMCA chair Lucy Haslam

“AMCA is really just a formalization of what has already been happening. I don’t see that we’re essentially new, we’re just putting a formal association and all that governance around what we’re doing and hopefully that will carry some weight with it.

“It’s also important to say that we’ve worked alongside some of the members of MCIA and MCC in getting to this point. We all have a role to play, we just might do things a little bit differently or we might have a slightly different end goal. It was important for me as an individual to align myself with people that I felt had a very similar goal to mine.”

“For the individuals on our board I know that there’s a lot of tenacity there. There’s a preparedness to take on the hard issues. Sometimes it doesn’t put you in the most popular light and I know certainly Teresa and I haven’t been the most popular people around sometimes at a government level. 

“We’re all very patient centric, our end goal is to get to a place where Australian patients have the best system, where it’s easy to go to a doctor and get a prescription for medicinal cannabis. You can readily afford it. You don’t have to wait ages for it. We want all of that for Australian patients. And I think that’s what’s united us all in AMCA.”

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