Tasmania is set to be the first place in Australia to legally grow marijuana, following a memorandum of understanding signed by both the NSW and Tasmanian Premiers. The crops grown in Tasmania are set to be used in NSW medical trials which will see its first treatments administered early next year. Tasmania seems to be the perfect candidate for this deal — the island state already grows most of the world’s opium poppy, along with material grade hemp crops.
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Medical marijuana in NSW currently operates under the Terminal Illness Cannabis Scheme which seeks to “extend compassion to adults with a terminal illness”. This scheme allows police discretion not to charge registered participants and their carers if they are caught with the drug in their possession. This scheme does not let doctors provide prescriptions for marijuana or handle the supply to its participants, however, saying “sourcing cannabis is a matter for adults with a terminal illness and their carers” — meaning even registered patients currently have to source cannabis through illegal means.
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Tasmania already has a heavily guarded agricultural industry, with commercial opium poppies being grown in the state since the late 1960s. The state now grows more than half the world’s legal pharmaceutical supply. It is likely that any marijuana crops grown in the state will be just as heavily regulated as poppy growers are currently, already possessing the legal infrastructure to put such a system in place. “These matters concerning the ability to cultivate the crop and to ensure a safe transition into NSW will be determined by our health department and other experts,” Will Hodgman, the Tasmanian Premier, told the Examiner.
It is yet unknown what strains will be grown and where, with this to be decided largely by Southern Cross University’s director of plant science, Professor Graham King. He has said that there is scope to “grow different types of crops from Tasmania all the way north”, although it can almost be guaranteed that the strains grown will be high-CBD and low in the more well known compound THC. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is what gives marijuana its telltale ‘high’, and CBD-based treatments will not have the same psychotropic properties — making it much safer to trial on children.
The NSW government is currently investing $9 million in clinical trials of medical marijuana, however, and having a local supply is key to these trials progressing. Australian customs laws currently allow the import of small amounts of cannabis for clinical trials, but international supply is often limited. Clinical trials carried out in NSW will be targeting terminally ill adults, children with drug resistant epilepsy and chemotherapy patients, with a focus on testing the efficacy of administering the drug as an inhalable vapour or a pharmaceutical.