Months behind schedule, Queensland’s first licensed medicinal cannabis farm has started growing plants with the aim of manufacturing a series of “affordable” medicines from early next year.
Medifarm director Adam Benjamin estimated the global worth of the industry to be more than $55 billion, but said his company’s focus would be supplying thousands of Australian patients hoping to access legal cannabis based drugs.
“These plants which are now under cultivation are being readied to produce medicine, cannabis medicine by prescription by Aussie doctors for Aussie patients by early 2019.”
Medifarm has Federal Government approval to cultivate, produce and manufacture medicinal cannabis from a high security farm operating from a secret location in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Journalists sign non-disclosure agreements to be allowed access, not just because of the sensitive nature of its produce, but because of its methods.
“We have exclusive intellectual property and genetics to fast track with the global pioneers from Israel who began this 12 years ago,” Mr Benjamin said.
Medifarm has an exclusive partnership with Tikun Olam, an Israeli based company that has developed specific genetic strains of medicinal cannabis to treat different medical conditions.
“The genetics behind these plants is what makes the difference to this Sunshine Coast business,” Federal member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien said.
“Having that level of maturity in a product for a start-up is something pretty special and it is the Israeli technology that has brought this to bear.”
Propagation now underway
On the ABC’s latest visit, master grower Steffen Krauschaar was taking cuttings from the first ‘mother’ plants, grown from imported Israeli seed.
The plants are potted up, drip-fed with water and nutrients, and exposed to natural and artificial light for 18 hours a day.
Medifarm director and general manager of production Mor Cohen relocated to Australia from Israel to oversee the set-up.
“I believe with all of this knowledge, and what we bring from Israel, we can supply the best product to Australia.”
Bar codes are attached to the stems of each plant.
They will be tracked from the moment they are cut from the mother plant, to when the finished pharmaceutical grade product is manufactured on-site from oils extracted from dried cannabis flowers.
But convincing Australian doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis could take years.
Richard Kidd, chair of the Australian Medical Association’s Council of General Practice, said GPs would be carefully watching Australian trials to determine the safety and effectiveness of medicinal marijuana.
“The trials will be going for another year two, then they’ll have to report to the Government, and if the Government is convinced the laws will have to be changed because at the moment, apart from the trials, legislation varies from state to state about cannabis and (prescribing) extract from cannabis.”
Mr Benjamin said the Australian research would build on work that has already been done in Israel where 40 per cent of patients receiving medicinal cannabis are cancer patients, helping with nausea and vomiting.
“By the end of this year there’ll be another handful of countries that have already legislated. These countries only move into this space because they see the evidence.”
Medifarm is one of five businesses licensed to produce medicinal marijuana in Australia.
Mr Benjamin estimated that three plants could supply one patient with all the medicinal oil they would need for a year.
“American doctors, international doctors prescribed this. There is no surprise that the modern revolution in medical cannabis is gaining great traction.”