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REVEALED: Jay's 'joint' taskforce - cannabis on the cards, but not on Holden site

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The State Government has established a multi-agency working group – spearheaded by Premier Jay Weatherill’s department – to establish a business case for growing medical marijuana in South Australia amid entreaties from a raft of prospective international investors, InDaily can reveal.

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Sources have confirmed the Government has long been highly receptive to the idea of establishing and fostering the industry locally, but it will not involve building a plantation on the current General Motors Holden site, nor is it likely to involve further dealings with local group the Australian Cannabis Corporation.

After InDaily last week revealed negotiations between the fledgling company and the Government had reached a bitter impasse, members of the corporation yesterday blasted the administration in a series of attacks across social media and in an open letter to South Australians published as a full-page ad in yesterday’s Sunday Mail.

But InDaily has been told while the Government has not been sold on the corporation’s business case or approach, it is very receptive to the notion of medical marijuana as a local money-spinner to enhance the state’s burgeoning credentials as a medical services hub.

“The Government is open to the idea, but far better business cases are coming from overseas companies with a track record in this industry,” a source told InDaily.

It’s understood several agencies have worked since September on “a large piece of work” to establish the industry’s viability and co-ordinate investment approaches – at the behest of the Premier’s office.

In response to inquiries from InDaily, a Government spokesman confirmed in a written statement that “a multi-agency working group is in place, ensuring a coordinated approach to the establishment of a medicinal cannabis industry in SA”.

We have received enquiries from multiple sources regarding the medicinal cannabis sector in SA

The group is chaired by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and includes representatives from Planning, SA Health, SA Police, Primary Industries and Resources SA, the Department of State Development and Investment Attraction SA, which “acts as the single point of contact for potential investors”.

The spokesman confirmed the investment attraction agency “has received enquiries from multiple sources regarding the medicinal cannabis sector in SA”.

“SA welcomes investment to develop a medicinal cannabis sector as part of our state’s growing biomedical, agribusiness and advanced manufacturing industries,” the statement said.

The revelation could spell trouble for future negotiations with the Australian Cannabis Corporation, which fired up over its demands on the weekend and claimed today that SA was “bogged down in public service hell”.

Corporation director Shane Yeend wrote in his open letter that he used Google Earth to calculate Holden’s roof size and predicted “if SA could grow medical marijuana at the site… it could generate $800,000,000 per annum and generate over 2500 jobs”.

The likely economic benefit appears to be unclear, with co-founder Ben Fitzsimons telling social media followers last week the plan would establish “a $300,000,000 plus industry”.

In his letter, Yeend wrote that “we want to employ thousands of South Australian’s (sic)”.

“A good for our struggling economically handicapped town,” he wrote.

“Imagine if we employed the best researchers in the world and actually cured cancer? WOW.”

The relationship with the Government appears to have soured quickly since Fitzsimons told InDaily last month: “We’ve been having solid, progressing discussions with the State Government”.

By contrast, Yeend told ABC891 this morning his attack campaign was inspired by “more than 12 months’ worth of frustration”.

“We had our first meeting with Government on January 6; we didn’t hear from them again except for a bunch of emails going ‘what the hell’s going on’ until October 7, and then we asked for a letter from the Premier by the 30th, which is when the applications opened at midnight, and Friday after they were still trying to organise that and then ended up [with] a letter from the Innovation Minister which really didn’t say what we needed it to say,” he said.

“We need it to say that the Premier of SA would support our bid. We need it to say that… the state would make the appropriate changes to the laws to bring it into line with the federal laws to start with and then make the appropriate changes to make it worthwhile issuing the licence.

“And that’s all; a pretty simple thing to do.”

InDaily has seen the letter to Fitzsimons from Innovation Minister Kyam Maher, which says the Government “welcomes development of a medicinal cannabis industry, including research and development, across the entire value chain”.

“We understand the importance of removing barriers to development of a medicinal cannabis industry in SA,” he wrote.

“The State Government will assist licensed medicinal cannabis businesses operating in this state to lobby the Commonwealth Government to permit the export of medicinal cannabis products made in SA.”

A spokesman emphasised today that “the State Government does not own the Holden site at Elizabeth”.

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