As the week comes to an end, our 4/20 stories do too. In our last special today, we focus on Australia, with two Australian growers and an Australian cannabis growing equipment supplier.
Prescriptions at an all-time high
As the cannabis industry got regulated in Australia, the first major obstacle didn’t take long to show up and slow down the excitement: doctors’ hesitancy on prescribing medical cannabis. Admittedly, they have been (and some still are) hesitant because they couldn’t find all the info they wanted on cannabis-based medicines. As doctors became more educated, together with the fact that a bill allowed all of them to prescribe medical cannabis, the potential of the Australian cannabis market started to show. “The current market situation is definitely improving in Australia,” says Lachlan Pettigrew, CanHub team member for Royal Brinkman. “Cannabis prescriptions are at an all-time high, and the demand for dried flowers is increasing rapidly. This is driving more and more interest into the Australian market.”
Leo Lievaart, Commercial Manager Royal Brinkman International
Obviously, hopes are high about a possible legalization, and who knows, maybe even in the (not-so) near future. “I think we are heading to legalization, I’m hoping in the next 5 years at least,” she says. “There are big opportunities for Australia, and a lot of talented growers out there.” As a supplier, CanHub’s main challenge is indeed to connect with those growers, allowing them to unlock their potential, and conversely, that of the Australian market. “From a supplier’s perspective, the biggest challenge would be connecting with growers and communicating our value proposition. The biggest opportunity for Royal Brinkman is indeed about helping facilities start up, new farms being built, capturing more and repeating the cycle with maintaining the relationship.”
Unserious players made it more difficult for good companies
Green Farmers is an Australian grower that started production last year, and it seems as if they are getting into the market at a very good time. “The Australian market is in very good shape, as we are seeing more patients and doctors supporting medicinal cannabis than ever before,” says Tom Varga, CEO of Green Farmers. “There are also a number of great brands that have been committed to the market since legalization, and as they lead the education and advocacy charge, things will only get better.” Thus, this is the time to keep the eyes on the target. “We must keep an eye on maintaining quality, consistency, and surety of supply to Australian patients, and that is where Green Farmers is focused.” The grower, in fact, has glasshouse 1 fully operational and has turned their attention to glasshouse 2 to keep up with market demand. “That in itself is a great reflection on the strength and health of the Australian market.”
That aside, Tom too agrees that there’s still a lot to do to educate not only health practitioners but also patients. “We have to find a way to communicate that medicinal cannabis is more than just CBD oil,” Tom points out. “Today, patients can benefit from high CBD, but also have access to high THC products that are focused on many of the issues that are major concerns on the health system today.”
On the other hand, there are challenges on an industry level, especially in raising capital. “The fact that there has been a lot of capital raised by cannabis businesses chasing the green rush which has been poorly deployed and utilized means that many good companies today are having a hard time raising capital. Green Farmers is one of the lucky ones with a great group of investors and about to cash flow positive with 5 tons of production out of glasshouse 1 alone.”
As a grower, Tom and Green Farmers acknowledge the role that legacy growers have played in the run-up to a regulated cannabis industry, and how their knowledge and mentality should be adapted to the current, legal industry. “As the next custodians of the cannabis plant, the industry must embrace the legacy knowledge and resources to ensure the learnings are brought into the legalized market. At the same time, the legacy market must also embrace the unique opportunity to take medicinal cannabis to more patients, in a safe, legal manner.”
Thanks to the simplification of the licensing and permits, as well as the improved reporting frameworks and the increased communication, the medical cannabis business can now focus more on meeting patients’ needs, according to Tom. “With the changes to scripts, we have also seen a better patient-focused model that will ensure patients have fewer supply issues and are able to access their medication at all times. For Green Farmers, with the continued development of our facility, the addition of more capacity with glasshouse 2, and building the team with industry experts like Matthew Dent, we will see our business better positioned to support the market. Our current customers are some of Australia’s leading brands, and our only focus is on working in partnership with them to deliver outstanding products. The cooperation we are seeing tells me that the industry is heading in the right direction, and that will only mean that Green Farmers is playing its role in changing the lives of patients, one plant at a time.”
Eyeing export opportunities and over-the-counter CBD
Angus Murray, cultivation manager at Cann Group, highlights how it is especially the dried flower market segment that is growing exponentially, currently. “There have been imports coming into Australia from international markets, which I hope are now being solely replaced by Australian licensed producers,” says he. “From July 2023, all medicinal cannabis products manufactured overseas must be GMP-compliant.” This will of course create a lot of opportunities for Australian growers, considering how strict regulations are in the country, giving local production an advantage over imports. “On top of that, there’s the legalization of over-the-counter CBD products in pharmacies,” Angus points out. “Although there aren’t any products on the market in this category yet – because they have to go through an approval process first – they can be easily distributed over the counter in Australia. Our Satipharm CBD capsule product, which can currently be accessed in Australia through doctor prescriptions, will be available through this pathway when approved.”
As Australian growers get on top of all the regulatory hurdles and set up their facilities to grow cannabis of the highest quality, Angus believes that in the next decade, the real work for growers will be efficiency and sustainability in cultivation.
Both of that, together with the power that the Australian-grown brand is, will create big export opportunities for growers. “We have to distribute internationally if we want to grow at scale in Australia,” he says. “I also believe the over-the-counter CBD products are going to be a game-changer. For us at Cann Group, that’s one of the most promising opportunities, as we are developing the innovative Satipharm CBD capsules as registered medicines.”