After InDaily yesterday revealed the existence of a multi-agency taskforce to assess opportunities and obstacles for the nascent cannabis industry in South Australia, Innovation Minister Kyam Maher today confirmed the working group will be expanded to include proponents from the industrial hemp and medical marijuana industries.
If you make some changes, we’ve got a monster industry on our hands
Negotiations with the latter group’s homegrown advocates, the Australian Cannabis Corporation, hit an impasse in recent days with the company’s founders – incensed at what they saw as a lack of urgency in the Government’s response – taking to social media with a series of pointed attacks.
Stunning words from @marshall_steven on MMM just now. THAT is leadership
— Ben Fitzsimons (@BenFitz) December 11, 2016
Government insiders, meanwhile, suggested the group was on the outer, telling InDaily yesterday “far better business cases are coming from overseas companies with a track record in this industry”.
But corporation co-founder Ben Fitzsimons yesterday broke bread with Maher, telling InDaily discussions had now “progressed positively”, with a further sit-down meeting planned for January.
Big thanks to @kymaher for a great discussion tonight. Looking forward to the future
— Ben Fitzsimons (@BenFitz) December 12, 2016
“We’ve asked them if they want to put forward a business case,” Maher told InDaily.
He said talks of an economic bonanza approaching a billion dollars were for now “only in the idea stage” based on estimations of the industry’s worth in overseas jurisdictions.
“We haven’t seen anything from the Australian Cannabis Corporation that’s beyond an initial idea [but] they seemed quite amenable to working something up,” Maher said.
“If they’re going to take it further, they’ll need a very highly-developed business case.”
But Maher suggested the Government’s interest went well beyond merely the local proponents, and well beyond medical marijuana.
He suggested the likes of industrial hemp advocate Teresa McDowell would also be involved in the working group, saying: “We’re keen to understand if there are any barriers, and any regulatory changes that are needed so that these sort of industries have a chance.”
He noted there were “a couple of listed companies in Australia looking at medical cannabis”, adding: “We’re looking at representations from as wide as possible.”
“It’s up to proponents with ideas to get them off the ground, to get them economically viable… it’s up to the market to decide whether they are viable,” he said.
McDowell, who is president of the Industrial Hemp Association of SA, told InDaily she has had “a long process of engagement with various ministers” and was “continuing with those discussions”.
The association wants Government support for Greens MLC Tammy Franks’ industrial hemp bill, which will be voted on next year.
“Our group is lobbying to make changes in the controlled substances act [which] will bring us up to speed with other states,” McDowell said.
“It’s a state by state process and we’re lagging behind.”
Fitzsimons – who last week teed off at the Government, and has since endorsed Opposition Leader Steven Marshall’s leadership on social media – said Maher had “wanted to get an understanding of where the blockages are, what the issues are and how we can navigate the path together”.
“Once we know what the rules are, we can put a business case around that – that’s the frustration,” he said.
He insisted the Australian Cannabis Corporation – which on Sunday floated the General Motors-owned Holden factory in Elizabeth as a potential site for cultivating medical cannabis – “wouldn’t be here if we didn’t know what we’re doing and didn’t have a plan”.
“Of course we’re happy to share it [with the Government, but] there’s no business case right now, with the regulations as they stand,” he said.
“If you make some changes – we’ve got a monster industry on our hands.”
Regulatory changes he will present to the Government include licensing SA patients who are prescribed the drug, to “make it easier to identify who’s holding cannabis legitimately”.
“We’ve got to make this stuff work – I think we’ve [now] got a mutual understanding of where each side’s coming from,” he said.
“They’ve acknowledged that we need to work together.”
Fitzsimons appeared to distance the Holden site from the corporation’s plan, admitting “we [already] control a site that’s suitable to get us started”.
He has repeatedly refused to identify the site for security reasons.
“We also have agreements with local manufacturers that are licensed and approved… but there’s no point right now pushing the button on that,” he said.
“It [would be] far less risk and less costly to do this on the black market, but we’re trying to do it the right way.”
With regard to Holden, he said, “we’re saying that’s the size of the opportunity, that’s the size of the marketplace, but it doesn’t have to be done there”.
“There’s lots of empty sheds in Adelaide with the right size and scale.”
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