Medicinal cannabis is already a thriving industry in many countries, helping to treat thousands of people living with chronic pain, cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions.
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Israel in the early 1990s and Israel is still home to the world’s most sophisticated cannabis research and development institutions. Since then, Denmark; the Czech Republic; France; Germany; Greece; the Republic of Ireland; Italy; and Slovakia have all pursued some form of medicinal legalisation.
In the Americas, Argentina; Brazil; Chile; Columbia; Peru and Uruguay have all made bold steps towards providing their citizens with medicinal cannabis treatments in the last few years. And the Mexican Government has also announced their intention to legalise.
The U.S. and Canada are by far the largest and most dynamic markets for medicinal cannabis. Although initially legalised at the State level in California in the mid-1990s, the conflict between State and Federal legislation has been a severe hindrance to its progress. Since then, more than half the States and Districts have legalised medicinal cannabis.
The current size of the legal cannabis industry in North America is estimated to be around US$8billion, and that is forecast to double by 2020. The Canadian market is also continuing to grow at an astounding rate: in Q1 2015, the number of registered patients was 18,512. In Q1 2016, this grew to 53,649, reaching 201,398 by Q1 2017. Canada has also legalised cannabis for non-medical use by adults (‘adult use’), with stores set to open from July 2018.
Medical scientific research
Clinical trials into the efficacy of medicinal cannabis were announced by the New South Wales Government in 2014 and began in 2016 with collaboration from the Queensland, Victorian and Tasmanian Governments.
In June 2015, the Lambert family donated $33.7 million to the University of Sydney, establishing the ‘Lambert Initiative’. This is the largest medicinal cannabis research group in the country, providing an invaluable boost to the development of treatments for childhood epilepsy, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, anorexia and dementia.
Australian regulations have motivated cannabis companies to engage in research partnerships for product and market development purposes. Major research programs have been announced by the University of Melbourne, RMIT, Canberra University, and the University of Newcastle to name but a few. Research in Australia is currently focused on pre-clinical drug development, basic biomedical and chemical science, plant science, and early-phase clinical trials.
The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill was passed by the Australian Federal Government in February 2016, a milestone for medicinal cannabis in this country. In October 2016 the Narcotic Drugs Regulation 2016 was published, which adds a lot more detail. Several States and Territories have since amended and/or introduced new legislation and regulation.
Although medicinal cannabis in Australia is still very new, several major players have already emerged including domestic and international cultivators and manufacturers such as AusCann; Cann Group; Creso Pharma; GD Pharma; LeafCann; Little Green Pharma; MGC Pharmaceuticals; Medifarm; MedLab; MMJ Phytotech; Tasmanian Botanics, PUF Ventures; Tilray; and Zelda Therapeutics.
Some of these businesses are planning on an import-heavy strategy, allowing them to leverage already-established cultivation and manufacturing facilities overseas (mostly Canadian), while others are focusing primarily on domestic production for both local consumption and potential future export.
While they wait for the regulatory green light, several firms are engaged in discussions with major Australian universities to test and develop new treatments and products.
But the industry isn’t confined to major players, or even those intending to cultivate, process or manufacture medicinal cannabis products. In North America, the ‘ancillary industry’ – firms providing products or services to medicinal cannabis businesses without ‘touching the plant’ – is a large sector crucial to the success of medicinal cannabis.
New cannabis-specific products and services such as specialist ERP providers, PR and lobbying firms and educational institutions have started up. And many existing businesses have successfully captured substantial value by strategically targeting the medicinal cannabis industry. There are opportunities in transport and logistics, packaging and labelling, policy and procedure development, HR and labour hire, product research and development, finance and insurance … the list goes on.
CCA Director Rhys Cohen publishes occasional industry commentary across a range of platforms: see the ‘Publications’ tab for a full list. CCA welcomes enquiries and comment requests from journalists and bloggers.