Drugs is the third episode in our The Hatch podcast mini-series on “Innovating Vices”, where we’ve been looking at traditionally stigmatised and heavily regulated industries to find out how entrepreneurs challenge the status quo.

Despite Australia legalising medicinal marijuana in 2016, we’re still trying to gauge how this space operates when it comes to successfully launching and running a business. Out of all the vices we’ve been following on The Hatch podcast, this industry seems to currently have little legroom for innovation.

For now though. Adam Miller (BuddingTech) and Rhys Cohen (cannabis expert and formerly from Cann10) are two trailblazers based in Sydney looking to move things forward. They want to increase access to medicinal marijuana, and help bridge the gap between research and patient access to see the industry flourish.

Legalisation is just the first step for budding entrepreneurs

If you’re one of the 90% of Australians who support the use of medicinal marijuana, you’re probably pretty happy to see that the drug is legal in Australia. But there’s still a long way to go to really make it a business bedrock, says Rhys Cohen, previous director of Cann10.

‘I think most Australians don’t realise that we’re still fighting just to get this sector established and that there are real issues of patient access,’ Cohen notes.

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Adam Miller from BuddingTech. Image: Supplied.

Currently, the medicinal cannabis framework is lengthy and complex with Australia taking a legislation first approach. As Adam Miller, Founding and Manager Director of BuddingTech observes: ‘Israel has done the opposite. They give it to the people and they’ll figure out the rest later. Australia doesn’t do that. They go by the books.’

At BuddingTech, Adam Miller is fighting to make marijuana more accessible to patients, having been directly affected – both his mother and grandmother have been affected by health issues that could be alleviated by medicinal marijuana.

But since Australia has decided to regulate medicinal marijuana as a pharmaceutical product, the processes doctors, specialists and patients face can be confusing. And because medicinal marijuana is still relatively new, many doctors are hesitant to prescribe it to patients due to the gap in medical education, even if it could be appropriate.

Cohen also believes that it’s hard for doctors to access reliable resources: ‘There are very few resources that they feel comfortable drawing from and there’s a lot of nonsense out there. It just confuses things and it makes people feel like this is snake oil and it’s not.’

Cracking the grass ceiling

Herein lies a key opportunity for entrepreneurs to help shape education. For example, LeafCann is a one of the few startups seeking to cultivate cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. Along with educating health professionals, Cohen has some other ideas for how business-minded people can shake up the industry.

‘Botanical research is going to be really key… how do you standardise cultivating a particular strain so that you always get exactly the same cannabinoid and turbine ratios at the end of the day? How do you motivate a plant to express more or less of a certain cannabinoid? Then there are opportunities around energy efficiency and new lighting and irrigation systems.”

The medicinal marijuana sector may not appear entrepreneur-friendly right now, but for those with a vested interest and passion, not to mention patience and creativity, it may be the dark horse of the startup world that may pay off in years to come.

By Quyen Nguyen, UTS Bachelor of Communication (Digital and Social Media) Bachelor of Laws/Podcast Producer

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