Christmas Island is best known as home to one of Australia’s many detention centres – but it could soon be the site of Australia’s first medicinal cannabis plantation.
Australian company AusCann announced this week that it is close to an agreement with the Island’s 2000-strong population to plant a ‘trial crop,’ with seeds likely to be sown in late 2016.
The first batch of plants is likely to include five different varieties of cannabis, which have been sourced from Spanish company Phytoplant Research, with which it has established an exclusive partnership.
The move follows a recent Federal Government announcement that certain groups will be granted special permits to grow plants for medicinal and scientific purposes.
The company also announced plans to list on the ASX early next year, after raising $3 million. The funds will be used to continue research and development on the Christmas Island plantation.
AusCann’s managing director Elaine Darby told the media that Christmas Island had been chosen because of its unique environment, which makes it ideal for cannabis growth:
‘We have carefully selected Christmas Island for its isolation, climate and security…In particular, we note that the amount of available daylight hours is critical to triggering cannabis plant flowering. Christmas Island experiences minimal changes to its daylight hours, so it is feasible that we could produce two crops each year.’
According to Ms Darby, their plan has full support from the locals, who will benefit from the employment opportunities and economic value of the venture.
Tasmania is also being eyed off as a potential site for a plantation, with the NSW government entering into a partnership with the State to enable it to grow cannabis for medicinal marijuana trials. The State has previously had great success in growing poppy crops for the production of medical opioids.
On Thursday, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the partnership between the two states.
However, the location of any proposed plantations and the size of the crops is yet to be decided.
AusCann states that it ‘seeks to become a licensed producer supplying the global industry and local markets when legislation permits in Australian and other jurisdictions.’
It claims to be Australia’s leading group in the global medicinal cannabis sector.
It is headed by Dr Mal Washer, a former House of Representatives Liberal MP who practised as a doctor before entering politics. He previously chaired the Alcohol and Other Drug Council of Australia, and been a vocal advocate for medicinal cannabis.
The company seeks to capitalise on the benefits of cannabis in treating chronic pain and a range of illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and childhood epilepsy.
Company’s Plans Clinical Trials
AusCann’s initiative will be complemented by several Australian trials, which aim to explore the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. These include a series of trials set to begin in 2016 to determine the effectiveness of using cannabis to treat childhood epilepsy.
Currently, parents of children who suffer from chronic illnesses are forced to break the law to obtain cannabis-based treatments – meaning they could face criminal charges for drug possession, or supplying an illicit drug to a minor.
Earlier this year, Queensland father Adam Koessler was charged with both offences after he gave his daughter Rumer cannabis oil while she was in hospital being treated for a serious form of cancer. He was also prohibited from seeing his daughter, and is now only allowed to see her if a doctor is also in attendance.
Desperate parents such as Adam – together with those who suffer from serious illnesses – hope that the initiatives of companies like AusCann are a positive indication of things to come.