As another eventful year in the cannabis industry draws to a close, we reflect on the 50 most-read Cannabiz stories of 2023. Advertising regulations remained a hot issue, the tough financial market began to bite, company feuds erupted and reformists continued the quest to end discrimination against medicinal cannabis patients.
In the lead-up to the July 1 TGO 93 reforms – an issue which regularly made the headlines in 2023 – concerns emerged that overseas manufacturers and their local partners may have been cranking up imports and releasing product with an extended use-by date without the requisite paperwork.
Legalise Cannabis NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham, who would later in the year introduce the party’s legalisation bill in the state parliament, said detecting driving impairment should be a role the police can and should play in the absence of a breathalyser test. The comments came as he tabled a bill to reform drug driving rules.
In late February, the Greens launched the party’s plans to legalise recreational cannabis in New South Wales. It would allow households to grow up to 12 plants, legalise cannabis social clubs and establish a NSW Cannabis Authority to regulate the market.
Montu became embroiled in another contentious product dispute as the company faced accusations it misled patients over the availability of Altum Group’s Kind Medical range of medicine. The first dispute saw it square up to Cannatrek.
Stock outages caused by the TGO 93 reforms robbed Althea of A$3.2m worth of sales, the company claimed in July. The firm said “significant supply chain disruptions” had prevented it from recording its first cash flow positive quarter.
Cultivator Green Farmers rode to the rescue – however temporary – of Bod Science in a deal that provided the stricken listed firm with upfront cash to keep trading. The future of the company continues to hang in the balance.
In this first instalment of a two-part interview with Peter Koetsier, the Cann Group CEO told Cannabiz how the company was entering a new era where shareholders patience would finally be rewarded.
Reforms to Victoria’s drug-driving regulations appeared to move a step closer in May amid reports the issue was due to be discussed at cabinet level. The wheels of change are slow to turn, however, as politicians continued to kick the can down the road for the remainder of 2023.
Medicinal cannabis clinic Trava Health was fined $82,500 just hours after Cannabiz revealed the TGA was preparing to update its advertising guidelines for medicinal cannabis. It accused Trava of referencing conditions for which medicinal cannabis could help.
In October, yet another cannabis association was launched, only this one aimed at pharmacists. The Australian Cannabis Pharmacists Association intends to bring together pharmacists to tackle issues and provide educational resources for dispensing medicinal cannabis.
Data released by pharmacy research firm NostraData claimed 350,000 medicinal cannabis products worth a combined A$41.6 million were dispensed in the second quarter of 2023. Cannatrek and MedReleaf Australia led the way, according to the figures, which not everyone regarded as overly accurate.
Amid a tough financial market, a Little Green Pharma cap raise fell short as the company secured just under half a hoped-for A$2 million.
The Cannabiz Awards for Australia and New Zealand 2023 launched in March, with a panel of 36 jurors judging 20 categories. The event proved a huge success as the great and the good of the industry were celebrated at a sold-out awards dinner in Melbourne later in the year.
As the year drew to a close, Cannabiz revealed the departure of several senior staff from Cannatrek with commercial leaders Tyson Craig and Stan Sack joining head of marketing Paul Schwartz and head of quality and compliance Jayde Foster leaving the business.
Cann Group said its financial position remained secure despite revealing in August it had just $764,000 in the bank, sufficient for only three months trading. CEO Peter Koetsier continued to paint a bullish picture of the firm’s future.
Families could be forced to turn to the illicit market to source cannabis for their children following the tightening of TGA prescribing rules for under 17s, doctors warned. Pleas to reverse the updated regulations fell on deaf ears.
In a sign of things to come for Medlab Clinical, shares in the business were suspended in March by the Australian Stock Exchange. Observational studies were also cancelled as the firm struggled to find a way through its financial difficulties.
Cannvalate and its co-founder Dr Sud Agarwal were named among six defendants in a multimillion dollar civil fraud case in the US. The case was dismissed as “baseless and frivolous” by sources close to proceedings.
In a saga which is still being played out, a boardroom feud broke out at Epsilon between chairman Josh Cui and his deputy Alan Beasley. Both want the other out. Events took an unexpected turn this week when administrators were called in by the board.
A number of overseas manufacturers lodged requests with the TGA to temporarily supply non-compliant medicinal cannabis beyond July 1 when new TGO 93 rules kicked in. None appear to have been granted their wish.
New drug-driving rules came into force in South Australia in February which saw medicinal cannabis patients threatened with losing their licence and facing on-the-spot fines under new police powers.
Close to half the number of medicinal cannabis approvals in the first nine months of the year were for very high THC products, Special Access Scheme data revealed. More troubling was that a third were prescribed for anxiety, despite the lack of evidence that it works for psychiatric conditions.
Cannabis Clinicians Australia vice president Dr Nic Giummarra and Cannabiz Prescribing Healthcare Practitioner of the Year Dr James Stewart joined clinic network One Health in an evolution of their earlier plan to encourage more doctors to consider cannabis medicine.
Cannabis and the media have always had a complex, uneasy relationship, and the way it is covered in the press is more important than ever, as Hannah Adler discovered.
Montu came under fire amid accusations it hijacked Lucy Haslam’s Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week by building a website of the same name. Nonsense, said Montu, arguing it was supporting the general call to raise awareness of cannabis medicine.
In February, four months before new rules were introduced governing the quality of imported medicinal cannabis, fears grew over the volume of non-GMP product being dumped in the local market. Several firms still complain that prices are being impacted by the amount of product that arrived in Australia prior to July 1.
Two of Australia’s leading prescribers, Dr James Stewart and Dr Nic Guimmarra, joined forces with an ambition to inspire more doctors to explore medicinal cannabis as a viable treatment option. They later took up the mantle under the One Health banner.
Medicinal cannabis clinics offering online consultations were warned they could fall foul of draft telehealth guidelines issued by the Medical Board of Australia.
An aggressive trademark strategy saw Cannatrek seek to monopolise a widely-used abbreviation for THC on labels and packaging. It also faced a challenge from Lyphe Australia over its attempts to register a product name called Wildflower. Cannatrek later dropped the application.
A month after the industry was warned that the regulator was preparing to come down on advertising breaches, Naturally Elevated was hit with a A$140,000 fine. The firm was accused of unlawful advertising medicinal cannabis on websites and social media pages
In September, Bod Science appeared to have become the first company to demonstrate the efficacy of low-dose CBD for insomnia after its 100mg soft -gel capsule showed a “statistically significant difference” with a placebo. However, the elation turned to distress two months later when the firm went into voluntary administration.
Companies who thought it was safe to resume dubious marketing activities after a period of enforcement inaction by the TGA were told to expect a new crackdown by the regulator. Several fines have been dished out since the August warning, although perhaps not as many as some people had hoped.
In what was one of the hot issues of 2023, the Therapeutic Goods Administration revealed 16 active investigations were underway into alleged advertising breaches. The regulator also batted away claims it was failing to deal with apparent law-breaking in an even-handed and consistent manner.
August’s United in Compassion Symposium heard how some behaviour in the medicinal cannabis space risked damaging the industry “for a long time to come”. The warning came as regulators were said to be closing in on unethical and prescribing practices.
Facilities left behind by defunct cannabis cultivator, Tikun Oceana, underwent a multi-million dollar facelift as new owners spoke of their “dreams and aspirations” of producing “quality” cannabis for Australian patients.
Cannabiz revealed in July how new advertising guidelines for medical cannabis were being drawn up by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for the first time in seven years. The industry hoped it would bring clarity to many grey areas of the regulations.
A bill to exempt medicinal cannabis from the state’s drug-driving laws was introduced by Legalise Cannabis Victoria in February as the industry stepped up its fight to bring the medicine in line with other prescription drugs. The fight goes on.
Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane reflected on what we learned – and what we can build on next year – after the overwhelming success of the inaugural Cannabiz Awards.
Questions emerged over why pharmacists are substituting products when they are presented with brand-specific prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. The practice is disrupting patient care and undermining GP-pharmacy relations, they were told.
Cann Group’s hopes of becoming the first to register an over-the-counter CBD medicine were dashed after a phase III clinical trial failed to demonstrate any significant difference between its Satipharm product and placebo for short-term sleep disturbance. A year on – and three years since low dose CBD was down scheduled – the market is still waiting for a product to hit the shelves.
Cannatrek doubled profit and revenue in FY23 during a year which saw the company ramp up sales and marketing activity and launch new businesses.
The contentious issue of product substitutions reared again as it emerged manufactured finished medicine is being swapped for compounded flower by some pharmacists. The practice risks undermining patient care and damaging the reputation of the industry, fed-up suppliers said.
Cann Group CEO Peter Koetsier backed the decriminalisation of home-grown cannabis for personal use, but warned a full legal system risked undermining the health of Australians.
Two of the industry’s heavyweights – Cannatrek and Montu – squared up to each other over claims by the latter that a top-selling medicinal cannabis product supplied by the former was unreliable and not up to scratch. Tension between the firms remain high with legal action remaining a possibility.
Cannatrek was in the news again last month after the Office of Drug Control (ODC) issued the firm with six infringement notices totalling A$99,000 for alleged breaches of its medicinal cannabis licence. The ODC alleged the company failed to “maintain a system of security at all times at the location where the activities…are undertaken”.
5. Cannabis executive salaries: who earned what in FY23 Expectant shareholders, a demanding regulator and a tough financial market make running an ASX-listed company a high-pressure gig. Cannabiz took a deep dive into the how the top executives were being rewarded for their efforts.
Better late than never? The health regulator kicked off legal action against CDA Clinics QLD and Vitura Health’s great adversary, Dr Ben Jansen, over alleged advertising breaches surrounding CDA Health’s short-lived venture CDA Express. The offences were allegedly committed in 2021.
The shortlist and venue for the inaugural Cannabiz Awards for Australia and New Zealand 2023 were released after an overwhelming number of entries were received across the 20 categories.
Dr James Stewart drew loud applause at the ACannabis conference with a blistering attack on a small minority of companies who he accused of “ruining the industry”. He said they are trashing the reputation of the sector by putting profit above patient welfare
And to the year’s most-read story in Cannabiz…In a follow-up story to the filing of legal proceedings against CDA Clinics QLD and Ben Jansen, questions were raised at the speed of TGA enforcement action after the regulator took more than two years to take meaningful action.