The good news is that the appetite for cannabis in Australia is constantly increasing and the industry is wide open. The bad news is that there’s a fair bit of red tape to get through if you plan on manufacturing or supplying cannabis products.
This is a double-edged sword; in contrast to the United States (where many individual states have laughably easy processes around getting a license to grow medical cannabis), the Australian system is very tightly regulated. This means that the future of the Aussie cannabis industry is bright, as the government is doing a lot to guarantee that “what you see is what you get” when purchasing medical cannabis – unlike the rest of the world, which is going through awful problems due to poorly regulated or unregulated cannabis industries, resulting in terrible quality cannabis products. The downside is that it’s laboriously bureaucratic and a massive drag to get through. This creates a huge barrier-to-entry for those who don’t have massive financial backing or a good head for administration (or indeed, a full department for it, like most Big Pharma corporations).
A great option for those interested in creating non-psychoactive cannabis products (e.g., “ones that don’t get you stoned”) on a small-to-medium business sized level is to figure out what you want to make and find some existing Aussie farmers who’re already growing hemp.
If you’re trying to figure out how to grow medical cannabis or become a supplier to medical cannabis companies, things get a lot trickier. Even getting through the documentation is a drag – but don’t stress, we’ve done the hard yards so you can focus on your business idea. Kick back, spark up and absorb the no-frills guide to starting your cannabis operation.
How to Get A License to Grow Medical Cannabis in Australia
You’ll need a license to grow cannabis in Australia, even if it’s just industrial hemp (which is less controlled since hemp contains no psychoactive substances, but still requires a fair bit of paperwork). International Law under the United Nations Convention means that the Australian Government is responsible for controlling the growing or manufacturing of cannabis, which allows them to track how much is being produced and where it’s going – this is to ensure that it’s being used for the officially intended use (e.g. medical or research purposes rather Netflix-and-chill purposes).
Your first stop needs to be the ODC (Office of Drug Control) followed by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), in which case this article will help you. They’re both part of the Australian Government Department of Health. Regulation of the industry (both production and cultivation) is the responsibility of the Federal Govt, but manufacturing and patient access is a joint responsibility of both the Feds and the states / territories – more info here.
Licences You Need For Growing Cannabis in Australia
Cannabis cultivation (growing) can only occur under licence issued by the Australia Government. Let’s get this out of the way – it’s not easy to come by. It’s expensive and time consuming. The first hoop to jump through is the “fit and proper person” test, which is basically how the ODC figures out whether you’re sketchy or not. So they’ll be taking a microscope to your criminal record, finances, business history and ability to meet the licensing requirements.
If you reckon you can get through that, the next thing to decide is what type of license you’ll need. There are three specific licenses which are related to supplying medical cannabis:
This is the Medicinal Cannabis Licence you need to authorise growing or producing cannabis (or both) for commercial purposes. It’ll allow you to grow, produce, store, package and transport cannabis plants and/or extracts (resin etc). To get this one, you’ll need to prove that you have a market for your produce – meaning that you’ll need to show the ODC a contract which demonstrates your relationship with a company who will do something commercial with your buds once they’ve been harvested. You can find out more on the specifics here.
The Cannabis Research Licence is a similar process to above, except for research purposes (either commercial or not-for-profit). Just as the one above, it’ll allow you to grow, produce, store, package and transport. To get this licence, you’ll need to explain what the proposed research is and how it relates to medical cannabis or medical cannabis products.
A Cannabis Manufacturing Licence gives you the authority to use cannabis plants or extracts/derivatives in drugs or products for medical and/or research purposes. This is generally sought and issued in combination with a Research or Manufacture licence.
Be aware that in most cases, you’ll need more than one licence, and you’ll also need to procure some of these licences from the TGA. You can apply for all ODC licenses via their online system – it’s relatively simple to navigate, but it takes a LOT of time and even your initial application will cost you upwards of $5K. Get an overview on which steps are necessary and begin the process here.
If you’re planning on importing cannabis from abroad or exporting what you’ve grown, there are a whole other set of regulations which are equally boring and stressful to go through. Once again, you’ll need to be committed and tenacious together with holding some serious funds to make it happen. Plus you can’t export cannabis flowers – it’s gotta be extracts or products.
If you’ve gotten this far and still reckon you can cut through the red tape to grow medical cannabis, the ODC has a surprisingly straightforward FAQ section which is well worth a look to clear up more specific questions you may have. Otherwise, drop us a line in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to help you out. Good luck!