The head of an Aussie medicinal cannabis business has opened up about the explosive growth in the fledgling local industry, with plans to double his workforce within months.
Matt Cantelo founded Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG) in 2015 as governments sought to remove restrictions against usage of the drug for medical purposes.
Mr Cantelo’s decision was based on having nursed his father through terminal cancer, who he believed would have benefitted greatly from the pain relief afforded by the drug.
“Across all our facilities, we currently employ 35 and will be recruiting a further 30 in the coming months,” he told My Business, adding that the self-funded business is currently exploring options to raise funds to finance this expansion and to invest in further research.
Red tape and regulations are major components for businesses operating in any industry. But Mr Cantelo admits that regulation, and its associated impacts on market accessibility, is particularly acute in the medicinal cannabis sector.
“While Australian regulations allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, access for patients can still be challenging,” he said.
“Although there is plenty [of] evidence supporting the effective medical use of cannabis, there is still stigma attached to the use of it. This generally is due to a lack of awareness of the research and clinical outcomes that exist.”
Part of overcoming that stigma, Mr Cantelo said, is to partner with prominent scientists and medical organisations to facilitate greater research and amplify discussion about the clinical benefits of its usage.
But the regulatory environment itself is also challenging, he admits, and is evolving rapidly as the sector grows.
“The Australian cannabis industry has been changing rapidly in last few years and this includes regulations, official guidelines and industry standards. As with any new industry, it’s important that the right regulations are put in place,” said Mr Cantelo.
“I believe that strict regulations are incredibly important to uphold the quality of the industry.”
Security of paramount importance
As can be imagined when growing and harvesting marijuana crops, security against theft is a particularly pertinent issue and an unavoidable operational cost.
“We take security very seriously at our facilities to not only prevent potential theft, but also to ensure that the growing conditions and high-quality product that we produce is not compromised,” Mr Cantelo explained.
“The cultivation licence issued by the government comes with a range of requirements, including appropriate security to prevent theft.”
Such security involves high-tech protection systems, cameras and “state-of-the-art fencing” to prevent intruders accessing the crops.
Export versus local supply
Australian states and territories acted almost in unison from late 2016 to change the laws banning its use and supply in all applications. But the problems of stigma and supply mean it is still a boutique industry here in Australia.
As such, overseas markets – particularly in Europe – present a viable option to export Australian grown and produced cannabis products.
But Mr Cantelo said this is not his firm’s primary focus.
“ANTG’s priority remains to provide superior quality medicinal cannabis for local patients,” he said.
“[But] the laws allowing Australian companies to export overseas allow for significant opportunities to scale up operations and gather learnings that can then support the Australian market.”
ANTG has plans to export its products to Germany, where roughly 22 tonnes of cannabis will supply more than 20,000 German pharmacies.
“Australia has prime growing conditions for cannabis and our ability to deliver quality product is being recognised internationally,” Mr Cantelo said.
“We will be investigating other export opportunities, but largely our focus is on producing high-quality registered product for the domestic market.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.