The country’s first medicinal cannabis farm has officially been opened at an undisclosed location near Tamworth in northern New South Wales.
Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce launched the 47-hectare property which has been named in honour of Dan Haslam, whose battle with cancer contributed to the push to legalise medicinal cannabis in Australia.
It comes just over a year after he died.
The Acting Prime Minister congratulated the Haslams on their efforts in bringing the project to fruition.
“Amongst your grief, which you will carry for a long time, you have managed to use that energy to do something in a positive way,” Mr Joyce said.
“When you can find a use for any part of a plant that can assist people when they are ill, when they are in pain, you should do it.”
Mr Joyce revealed his own very personal reason for backing the project.
“We’ve got to make sure that everything — for my brother Tim who’s got bowel cancer, stage four — that we do everything in our power to make sure we help people,” he said.
Farm created with family support
Dan Haslam’s mother, Lucy Haslam said over the last two years, the family had managed to garner support from where previously there was none.
“We have been able to bring Australian political views up to date with current world views to change laws,” she said.
“We have begun the process of re-educating Australian health providers around the use of medical cannabis.”
Also at the launch was former Hi-5 member Tim Harding, whose daughter suffers from a form of epilepsy which cannot be treated with conventional medicines.
Mr Harding said she suffered on average 100 seizures each day, and got some relief from using medicinal cannabis.
“This project is basically for us a massive hope. That’s what it represents to our family and to thousands of others,” he said.
“The thought that we may have access to medication that works, that is standardised and is reliable and most importantly is affordable,” he said.
Ms Haslam said the vision for the farm was to expand from cultivation to manufacturing.
“We see it as a new Australian primary industry,” she said.
A framework for the future
The farm is the latest step in a concerted plan by Ms Haslam to allow people compassionate access to the drug, which she had to buy illegally for her own son to relieve his pain while being treated for bowel cancer.
While the Federal Government is working on framework around legislating for the cultivation and supply of medicinal cannabis, Victoria became the first state to pass legislation allowing medicinal cannabis earlier this week.
Despite these moves, Ms Haslam said Australia was leaps and bounds behind other countries in the world.
She has just returned as part of a delegation to Israel along with the Premier of NSW Mike Baird, and NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Mary O’Kane.
The group toured patient clinics and a privately owned dispensary.
While cannabis is available medically and considerable research is being done for its application in the treatment of many diseases in Israel, Ms Haslam said there were issues with quality control because of a lack of government regulation.
“You need to know where it comes from, you need good manufacturing practices — otherwise you would have to spend a lot of time testing that to see that it didn’t contain heavy metals or pesticides,” she said.
The delegation found that until recently research in Israel had been unfunded and cannabis sourced from police confiscations.
Ms Haslam said that would not happen in Australia.
“We want the absolute best for our patients, so that’s what we should be aiming for,” she said.
“Most of those varieties are high THC varieties because they are bred for the drug markets. They don’t necessarily have the properties that we would be searching for in the strains that are grown for medicinal use,” she said.
Victorian legislation welcomed
The United in Compassion (UIC) farm near Tamworth will be the first to grow cannabis for medicinal use in Australia.
UIC’s Troy Langman welcomed Victoria’s recent decision to legislate for an industry.
“I think it’s great news for patients all over Australia, somebody had to make the first move and I reckon that should put pressure on other states to follow suit as soon as possible,” he said.
Ms Haslam said the farm was a way of honouring Dan’s memories, and his own dreams.
“Dan always wanted a farm. He had planned, with his wife Elyse, to always have a farm,” she said.
“In his honour we will call our farm DanEden and we hope that the farm will be the start of something special.”