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Australia cautiously enters medical marijuana market

Melbourne, Australia | AFP | At a secret location in Australia’s southeast, Peter Crook delicately tends to a two-month-old cannabis cutting.

Barely knee high, it is one of about 50 government-sanctioned “mother plants” to be cloned for future generations of crops for the country’s fledgling medicinal marijuana industry.

“I think we’ll see Australia punch above its weight, both in agriculture research as well as medical technology,” says Crook, the chief executive of Cann Group Limited, the firm granted Australia’s first commercial grower’s licence.

“As different conditions come online we are going to see the market grow rapidly.”

Following Canada, Israel, and more than half the US states, who through varying approaches have legalised medicinal marijuana, Australia has signalled its intention for a homegrown industry.

But a patchwork of regulations that guard access for many desperate patients, and a lack of confidence among doctors in prescribing the drug, are acting as impediments.

While recreational marijuana use remains illegal in Australia laws passed last year permit medical use, with a dozen licences since issued, ranging from cultivation and research to manufacturing.

At least 10 sector-related firms have listed on Australia’s stock exchange, while tens of millions of dollars has been pledged for clinical trials investigating treatment for conditions including epilepsy and relief for the terminally ill.

Driven by a growing recognition of treatment for chronic pain, arthritis and migraines, the global market is estimated to reach US$55.8 billion by 2025 with the US, Canada and Israel leading the way, US-based analyst Grand View Research says.

– ‘Conservative government’-

But unlike those markets, which have liberal patient-access, Australia has a “very conservative government” that wants a regulatory framework in place up front, says Adam Miller, founder of medical cannabis start-up BuddingTech.

“They’re doing things by the book so that when they have the evidence required to satisfy not only Australia’s but other countries’ governments, and medical bodies, they will be able to export those products to those countries,” he added.

Last year, researchers at the University of Sydney estimated a legal domestic medical market would initially be worth more than Aus$100 million (US$75 million) a year.

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