Relaxation of medicinal cannabis export laws 'fake news': Barry Lambert
Barry Lambert (right) with Ecofibre's Eric Wang and Professor Iain Mcgregor in a cannabis field in Kentucky has taken a dim view of the government's new pot moves. Supplied Chairman of hemp company Ecofibre, and Australian Financial Review rich lister, Barry Lambert has slammed the federal government's move to green light medicinal cannabis exports as "fake news," saying Australian companies won't be able to compete with more established overseas competitors. Medicinal cannabis shares according to a Bloomberg index soared after the federal government said it would allow exports of medicinal cannabis products for the first time. The move is part of efforts to boost the growing domestic market and secure supply for domestic patients. But Mr Lambert, who in April stood down as chairman of the listed accounting and wealth management firm Countplus to become the chairman Ecofibre, said the announcement by the federal health minister Greg Hunt "means nothing" because there was not a way to viably produce cannabis in Australia, nor a strong domestic market in which to sell it. "The reality is this, this is obviously fake news. Minister Hunt is trying to justify doing something, but he's actually doing nothing. There is no way Australian producers under Australian rules will be competitive with Americans or Canadians," Mr Lambert told The Australian Financial Review.
Financial Review rich lister Barry Lambert, pictured with his granddaughter Katelyn, says Australian medicinal cannabis companies won't be able to compete with more established overseas competitors. James Brickwood
Ecofibre in 2016 completed a $12 million capital raising with cash from Mr Lambert and finance sector identity Chris Cuffe. Following this it shut down production in Australia, to move to the US where it said the legal framework was much more favourable. Hemp grown 'like wheat' The hemp company which plans to list in 2019, grows its crops in Kentucky "like wheat" and Mr Lambert said it uses legal Mexican labour to keeps costs to maintain its 500 hectare plantation down. "We won't even grow it here because you can't make a living out of it and that's why we grow it in the US because the rules are different. The fact that their [Australian listed cannabis companies] share prices go up today on fake news is unbelievable."
At market close Thursday, shares in the country's largest producer and seller of medicinal cannabis Cann Group were up 35.42 per cent at $3.90, competitor AusCann Group saw its stock spike 53.66 per cent to $1.26 and The Hydropo Company, focused on the provision of hydroponic equipment, had gained 30.77 per cent to 94¢.
John Athanasiou, chief executive officer at Red Leaf Securities said the spike was "it's further vindication that the sector is becoming valid. It's not just a bunch of hippies anymore. We've just got to be cautious about which ones to pick."
Cann Group, the first Australian operator to begin growing cannabis stock, said Thursday's announcement was a new incentive for companies to accelerate development.
"The important thing in terms of ensuring there is access for Australian patients to high-quality, reproducible, well-characterised product is being able to set up at scale and having an off-take capability that the export opportunity gives us," chief executive Peter Crock said.
"I think it will bring confidence to Australians medicos who are looking to understand where this sits and how it is produced, and the fact that it is going to obviously still fit within the TGA governance is important."
US is a 'fickle market'
The profile from overseas exports could give doctors confidence to prescribe more cannabis products, he said.
"The United States is its own special case and the fact that it's still illegal federally makes that a really fickle market to consider.
"Canada, on the other hand, is well regulated and their obviously much further down the path than Australia but underlying the opportunities is this is going to be a high-tech agricultural cultivation base that we start from."
Mr Crock called for governments to simplify patient access, including through harmonisation between federal, state and territory rules.
"Dealing with access and allowing doctors to prescribe and not having inconsistency between states only allows roadblocks between the patient and the doctor being able to prescribe product," he said.
Mr Hunt said no federal government barriers to the prescription of medicinal cannabis remained, but use remains subject to state and territory regulations.
Any export licence will be conditional on rules requiring stock be made available to Australian patients first.
The government previously blocked exports to allow the Australian industry to gain international confidence in cultivation system and other controls.
"In Australia it is a new prescribed product so it is a matter for the doctors to be informed and to make their own decisions on behalf of the patient," Mr Hunt said.
"Our goal is very clear: to give Australian farmers and manufacturers the best shot at being the world's number one exporter of medicinal cannabis."
Regulation to allow for export permits comes after the government legalised patient access to Australian-grown and manufactured medicinal cannabis in 2016.
Growth of medicinal cannabis stocks are under way in Victoria and NSW. The federal health department says 350 patients have accessed Australian-grown medicinal cannabis products since the access rules were established.
Doctors can apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration or through authorised prescribers to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis products to patients.
Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon said he encouraged the endeavour of Australia's cannabis industry on the back of the announcement.
"Coupled with this will, no doubt, be calls for Australian doctors to increase their prescription," Dr Gannon said.
"Those calls consistently come from the companies cultivating cannabis. Australian doctors will prescribe cannabis when and where there's evidence that it's effective, just like they do for all other medicinal products."
Conditions that can possibly be treated using medical cannabis include pain reduction or appetite stimulation for AIDS/HIV sufferers, improvement in mood scale for anxiety patients, joint destruction suppression for arthritis suffers and reduction in seizure frequency for those with epilepsy.
Other possible treatments include reduction of insomnia for sleep disorders, reduction in psychotic symptoms for schizophrenia patients and improvements in tic severity for Tourette Syndrome sufferers.