A decision to grant a licence to grow medicinal cannabis on Norfolk Island has sparked renewed calls for the drug to be made available to Australian patients.
Cannabis producer AusCann has become the first Australian company to be granted a license to grow and export medicinal cannabis to an international market.
The company will grow medicinal cannabis on Norfolk Island and export it for sale in Canada.
The company said it hoped it would soon be able to export medicinal cannabis to mainland Australia, with legislation due to come before Federal Parliament in the coming months.
Medicinal marijuana is still illegal in Australia, but many argue that has to change given the growing anecdotal and scientific evidence of its medicinal benefits.
AusCann founder Troy Langman said the company intended to export its entire first crop by the middle of 2016 and ramp up production from an initial one tonne to 10 tonnes by 2018.
“Obviously it’s very exciting that we get the opportunity to be the first company in Australia to produce medicinal cannabis,” he said.
“I guess for me one of the important things is that I’m pleased that it will be an opportunity for Norfolk Island.
“It’s a place that my family lived for many years. They desperately need employment and industry so I guess I’m mostly pleased for them.”
The Federal Government’s Norfolk Island administrator Gary Hardgrave still has the power to stop the project from going ahead.
Mr Hardgrave vetoed a licence in 2014, citing safety and security concerns, but Mr Langman said he was confident this time would be different.
“The issue has advanced significantly since then, so I’m hopeful that this time around we might be allowed to proceed,” he said.
Mr Langman said frustration was building among Australians who wanted access to medicinal marijuana.
“I’m Australian and when I set out to do this in the beginning, I was doing this for Australia … not that of course any human in the world is less worthy, but it would be certainly my dream to be able to help people in the country in which I live,” he said.
Di Natale says laws in Australia need changing
Lucy Haslem has been a vocal campaigner for the legalisation of medicinal marijuana since her son Daniel used it for relief after being diagnosed with cancer.
It frustrates her that an Australian company is making medicinal cannabis available overseas, while it is still inaccessible to Australians.
“I’ve learnt to be really patient I suppose. I’ve just learnt that we’re so tied up in bureaucratic red tape in this country that nothing happens quickly,” she said.
“For Daniel, it didn’t happen quick enough and for a lot of people it’s not happening quick enough, but I do know that there are things happening behind the scenes that hopefully will evolve over the next couple of months and get us into a place where it’s a level playing field for patients that need it.”
Australian Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said it was beyond belief that an Australian company doing so much overseas in this area was unable to help Australians.
“It just demonstrates that we need to change the law here in Australia. We need to ensure that people who would get benefit from medicinal cannabis should be able to get access to it, and in fact I’ve got a bill before the Parliament that would allow that to happen.”
Dr Di Natale is urging Prime Minister Tony Abbott to promise his support for the bill.
“I’ve been encouraged by the level of support I’ve had from members… on all sides of politics,” he said.
“I’m really urging the Prime Minister to get behind this legislation. It’s legislation that’s modelled on the best examples of what goes on internationally, [it] makes it very clear that we’re going to treat this separately from the issue of recreational cannabis, that we will have a very strict framework for licensing people to grow it,” he said.
Senator Di Natale said the evidence on medicinal cannabis’s benefits was clear.
“We’ve got to make sure now we just come into the 21st century, support the legislation that I’ve got in the Parliament, and make this a reality for those people who are suffering.”