Australia was the first country to fully legalize the use of medicinal marijuana, but the country’s early foray into the cannabis industry was not without its challenges. Different strains of cannabis have different effects, and many varieties are still illegal to possess in the country.

The Australian cannabis market is opening up, 5 years after landmark legal changes. The laws were introduced in 2015 after a decade of political fighting, and the country is now poised to reap the benefits of a legal cannabis industry.

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Experts and companies say it is still too difficult to access.

Five years after a historic change in the law, Australian companies say the market has finally reached the point where it is actually possible to provide people with safe and easy access to cannabis. In the United States, where the legal framework for production and sales varies from state to state, the value of the medical cannabis market is expected to exceed $13 billion by 2025. Although Australia has made progress – albeit slowly – since medicinal cannabis products became legal, experts say there is a fine line between a well-regulated market and one that hides a legal product from those who could benefit from it. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 600,000 Australians use marijuana for medical purposes, but that’s only a fraction of the 1.9 million people who use it for other reasons. Of these 600,000 people, only 3.9% actually had a prescription from a doctor. In 2016, medicinal cannabis was legalised in Australia to regulate cannabis in the same way as other medicines, with some caveats, says Rhys Cohen, cannabis consultant and editor of industry publication Cannabiz. Amendments to the Narcotics Act have enabled both the legal cultivation of cannabis and the manufacture of medicinal cannabis preparations in Australia. However, Cohen says it has taken a long time for people whose quality of life could be greatly improved by easier access to cannabis products to navigate the medical system needed to obtain them. Cohen says the approach of other markets also seeking legalisation can serve as a lesson for how the Australian market can develop the right level of regulation to create a secure supply chain for access to medicinal and recreational cannabis in the future. Earlier this year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration moved low-dose cannabidiol (CBD) oil from Schedule 4 to Schedule 3. This change means that Australians can now buy CBD products without a prescription. Dr. Ben Jansen, clinical director and founder of cannabis provider and consulting company CDA Clinics, told Business Insider Australia that now, five years after the initial legislative changes, we are seeing a real market emerge. Jansen owns and operates CDA Express, an online portal that gives consumers access to a free consultation that is reviewed before they are allowed to purchase CBD oil online. Jansen says the importance of this event is that we are moving closer to a point where there are fewer barriers to accessing cannabis and CBD products in Australia. We can now better understand how this compares to what we have seen in other markets around the world, he said. Market Comparison Jo Patterson, CEO of ASX-registered Bod Australia, which develops CBD-based medicines, told Business Insider Australia that her company, which conducts research in the field for international organisations and also has access to manufacturing in Europe, blames regulation for delaying the expansion of the Australian market. In the UK and some jurisdictions in the US, some CBD products can be purchased over the counter without requiring a doctor’s approval. From the point of view of a company that wants to supply products to industry, there is no need to go down the path of clinical trials, she explained, which requires a significant investment of time and money. While in Australia they limit the options, the product must meet a certain profile, Patterson said. Here in Australia, options are limited due to restrictions and legal requirements, she says, despite an indisputable and growing body of scientific literature supporting the use of CBD for medicinal purposes. For her company, which has access to the international supply chain for cannabis products, Patterson says she wants to see a change in the way cannabis is treated in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. Cohen said the issue of regulation is complex in almost all emerging markets, so it is difficult to criticise or praise Australia’s approach. In the United States, for example, the federal approach makes it extremely difficult for companies to access basic financial services from federal financial institutions, which is not really a problem in Australia. In late 2020, the Australian Financial Review reported that CannaPacific, an early-stage cannabinoid pharmaceutical company, had taken out a $3.5 million credit facility with Westpac before it received licenses for cannabis cultivation and research from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Similarly, in November National Australia Bank provided a $50 million line of credit to ASX-listed Cann Group, the first company to receive a cannabis research licence and cultivation licence from the Office of Drug Control (ODC) in 2017. I don’t think anyone has succeeded in that yet with recreational cannabis, Cohen said. Canada is great because it has federally legalized it, and it has commercially federally legalized it. On the other end of the spectrum, Cohen says, are countries that have not legalized recreational cannabis, such as. B. Spain and Belgium, but which have enabled the emergence of the non-commercial cannabis sector. In Spain, you have a community of nonprofit organizations that grow cannabis on behalf of their members and supply it to their members, he said. Which I love. Cohen says the ideal would be a well-regulated commercial cannabis sector that partners with the medical or non-profit sector, but that doesn’t exist in any country. Jansen said that in the U.S. market, FDA testing has failed to minimize the illegal CBD market. He said about 10 percent of CBD available in the online market in the United States is illegal and unverified. Although bringing the product to market has taken time – when the company first applied for permission to sell in the online market, the regulator rejected the application, asked for a new one and said a month later that it had erred and approved the application – he said he thought the regulatory framework was working and would improve over time. The Australian market needs to have its own organic growth and learn with Australian industry and regulators, Jansen said. The future of Australian cannabis Patterson, whose company can supply CBD products to the Australian commercial market, says he wants to see an expansion in the types of products that can be sold legally. Currently, there are no products on the market licensed to meet the profile set by the TGA, she said, which would allow CBD to be sold without a prescription. As the prescription drug market in Australia grows and more doctors become involved, Patterson wants the regulatory framework to be simplified to allow more types of low-dose cannabis products to enter the market. In the United States, the medical cannabis market is now estimated to be worth about $8.6 billion, she said. So I’m very excited about the opportunities in this market, both in healthcare and medicine. And simplifying the regulatory framework only means that the market will accelerate, which means that our opportunities will accelerate along with it.

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