The first Aussie-grown medicinal cannabis products have hit pharmacy shelves as sick and dying patients fight bureaucracy for access.
Companies are in a race to become Australia’s lead supplier of oils and tinctures, with one claiming to be the first to locally grow, harvest and manufacture a Made-in-Australia product.
A Queensland company also says it will have its medical marijuana crop on the Sunshine Coast harvested and available for patients by the New Year.
Advocates hope an Australian medicinal cannabis supply chain will slash the cost of products which currently are imported from overseas countries like Canada.
One industry insider said legally imported products were as high as $40,000 a year for patients ($110 per day), driving many people to the black market.
The first Australian production comes as frustrated patients fight governments and doctors for prescriptions.
United in Compassion founder Lucy Haslam, who started campaigning when her son Dan was dying from cancer, said Australia’s current policy was “failing”.
The federal government has this year approved only 1204 applications and that figure could include repeat applications by the same patient.
By comparison in Germany, where medical cannabis was legalised in March last year, about 16,000 people had applied to their health insurance companies to be reimbursed for medical marijuana costs, according to media reports.
Ms Haslam said Australian doctors needed more education on how best to advise and treat patients and she called on state and federal governments to cut red tape.
“They have made a convoluted system and the policy is failing Australian patients but maybe that was their aim,” said Ms Haslam.
“Even when patients can get approval, they can’t afford it.”
Patients access medicinal cannabis through doctors who must in turn gain approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and also meet state requirements.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) remains cautious and supports clinical trials to establish clinical guidelines.
A survey of its GPs found six out of ten doctors had at least one patient enquire about medicinal cannabis over a three-month period.
AMA Council of General Practice chair Dr Richard Kidd said Australian medicinal cannabis would improve access because the regulations around importing were difficult.
“(When importing) you have to consider the laws of each state and countries and there’s so much extra paperwork and red tape,” said Dr Kidd.
“If it was produced locally and rigorously and legally and was a great quality product then it might lead to good studies to help people in the future.”
Since giving the green light to medicinal cannabis in Australia in February 2016, the federal government has approved 41 licences authorising cultivation, production and manufacture.
Many companies remain in the research phase, experimenting with crop production and genetics, while others have teamed up with overseas companies to draw on their expertise.
Western Australian-based Little Green Pharma (LPG) is claiming to be the first in Australia to grow and manufacture medicinal cannabis oil and supply pharmacists across Australia.
The crops are grown hydroponically in south-west WA and processed and manufactured in a facility near Perth.
LGP’s managing director Fleta Solomon said in a statement that local production and “a more affordable treatment option” would make a difference to thousands of Australians.
“At present, Australians who want these medicines have to buy expensive imported products or travel overseas for treatment,” Ms Solomon said.
“The advent of Australian production marks a new era for cannabis medicines.”
Queensland-based Medifarm, on the Sunshine Coast, is expecting to have its first oils and tinctures available to patients by the New Year.
Medifarm director Adam Benjamin said Medifarm was years ahead of other companies because of its ties to Israeli medicinal cannabis pioneer Tikun Olam.
“You must have the right plant genetics backed by clinical trials and we have that through our Israeli partners,” said Mr Benjamin.
Mr Benjamin said locally produced medicinal cannabis would make treatments more affordable and improve supply.
“Our aim is make products that are affordable for patients and ours will be affordable,” said Mr Benjamin.
The New Daily contacted a number of companies including Cann Group and AusCann but did not receive a response.
A spokesperson for the federal Health Department said: “It is unknown whether local cultivation will increase applications/prescriptions of medicinal cannabis.”