Last weekend, as votes were counted in the federal election, the industry gathered for its first big face-to-face event since the pandemic. Cannatrek CEO Tommy Huppert reflects on the big themes from the UIC Symposium and the opportunities a change of government presents to build for the future.

An ongoing theme at last weekend’s Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium was the need for more research to prove the efficacy of cannabis as a safe treatment for a wide range of indications.

But the question remains, who is going to fund it? It’s not realistic to expect an industry which is still pre-profit, importing 90% of its products, to do that — and build the supply chain at the same time, for a million patients in need.

Cannatrek
Cannatrek CEO Tommy Huppert

I have called before for the government to fund medicinal cannabis research and innovation to the tune of A$100 million, so that the entire industry can share the outcomes.

Let’s prove the medicine is safe and effective and share that knowledge as quickly as possible. Then let individual companies develop IP. We shouldn’t be competing during the research phase. 

This is a wonderful grassroots movement, so let’s collaborate as an industry. We have three industry bodies now — more voices to sing the same tune. 

It might sound like a lot of money, but the return will be more than 10 times that. It’s basic health economics, but we need to make the case.

We need to model how the industry is going to work over the next three, five, 10 years. What are the numbers? What’s the real effect on spending? A thorough, top-down analysis of the medicine, the indications it works for and how it can save the government money in the long term. 

That way, we can demonstrate to those holding the purse strings that they will get a return on their investment.

But that’s not the only resourcing issue that needs addressing. The government must also further allocate more funding for the Office of Drug Control (ODC) to fast track the processing of permits and help us develop the local production footprint.

Otherwise, Australia will lose a unique opportunity to build a new industry, with all the jobs that come with it.

“The current medicinal cannabis system is clunky and the supply chain has not been fully built. There is effectively a tiny, inefficient industry today after five years, because it has had limited government support.”

TOMMY HUPPERT

There are too many bottlenecks, which make producing a great product at a reasonable price almost impossible. The problem used to be access. Now access has improved, but the product is still too expensive for most, as a daily medication. 

And if you want a supply chain, you also need skilled people. We’re having to spend a lot of time and money training staff because there aren’t enough people with the right experience yet. It’s still a young industry. 

The government’s responsibility is to the people and they are obliged to put laws and processes in place which make things work. But it’s obvious that the current medicinal cannabis system is clunky and the supply chain has not been fully built. There is effectively a tiny, inefficient industry today after five years, because it has had limited government support.

Let’s use the opportunity of a change in government to push for a reset. The new administration will want some runs on the board. Finding new ways to tackle the mental health crisis would be a good start. 

The weekend showed the incredible innovation going on in the sector. Revolutionary ways of looking at serious medical indications. Fascinating research. It is not a normal medicine we’re dealing with. It’s not one API like an opioid. It’s the cannabis plant, the king of the herbs, with hundreds of cannabinoids. It doesn’t really fit the current regime.

And that’s what we need to change. 

Exports are great, but we need to look after patients and create jobs here. We’ve got a unique chance to make Australia the powerhouse of medicinal cannabis in the world. Even though we’re late to the game, we can do it, with a little help from Canberra. 

So $100 million in a medicinal cannabis fund for the industry. More money for the ODC. That’s a billion-dollar formula.