Medicinal Cannabis in Tasmania - Adjournment Speech

8 August 2017

This past July I had the pleasure of visiting a property run by Tasmanian Alkaloids, one of Tasmania's world-leading poppy industry's principal companies. I was taking the valuable opportunity to see for myself how the medicinal cannabis industry could be another example of Tasmania forging a path for the rest of Australia to follow—in this case, plant-based therapeutic products.

But for the Turnbull government's chaos, Tasmania could be leading the way on medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis is not a new or controversial alternative treatment. It was legal in Australia until the 1950s, and there are now successful treatment schemes in operation right across the world.

I've been advocating for medicinal cannabis to be made available in Tasmania since I participated in the 2015 Senate inquiry, but progress has been painfully and needlessly slow. In February 2016, legislation was passed in this Senate that allowed the legal cultivation, production and manufacturing of medicinal cannabis products in Australia. During debate, many in this chamber spoke about their experiences meeting families who were risking arrest to alleviate their loved one's suffering. They are the human faces of devastating diseases and, for a variety of reasons, have found conventional medicines have not worked.

I have congratulated Tasmanian Alkaloids and also Tasmanian Botanics for having the foresight to seek medicinal cannabis licences. During my visit, representatives from Tasmanian Alkaloids informed me that licences for medicinal cannabis cultivation and production, cannabis research licences and manufacturing licences are all granted separately. Tasmanian Alkaloids has been granted its cultivation and production licence, as well as its cannabis research licence, but the company is still progressing its application process to obtain a manufacturing licence. I am certainly looking forward to when that licence is granted, because it completes the suite of licences that the company must apply for. This final licence will enable the company to manufacture medicinal cannabis for the Australian markets.

I urge the government to recognise the importance of getting this industry established, because delays to granting licences will become an obstacle to making the most of the opportunities that are ahead of us. Tasmania is ideally positioned to become a manufacturing base for both domestic and international markets. The Australian domestic market has been estimated to be worth $100 million a year, which could bring sustainable economic benefits to my home state of Tasmania. I really believe that Tasmania can become a global leader in the cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis, just as we have become with the world's legal opium crops. Tasmania's poppy industry currently supplies around half of the global stocks of poppy straw, an industry worth over $100 million. Closed-loop production is key to this success. The opportunity to grow, manufacture, and distribute directly from one location alleviates legitimate security concerns. This model can only be successful if licences are granted in a timely fashion. But, since the passing of this federal legislation, it has taken almost a year and a half to grant any licences to Tasmanian companies, and that simply isn't good enough.

The time it has taken for these licences to be granted is, I believe, another disappointing example of the Turnbull government's characteristic chaos and indifference. We need the Commonwealth and the states and territories working together, because all of them have a role to play in ensuring each aspect of the manufacture, use and possession of medicinal cannabis is legal. So I'm calling on the Turnbull government to take its foot off the brake and enable the Tasmanian medicinal cannabis industry to take advantage of this exciting opportunity for the benefit of both patients and the economy of our home state.