The Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, which passed the Senate on June 17, will allow the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to issue phytosanitary certificates for the export of medicinal cannabis and hemp products. This bill will remove an unintended regulatory barrier which has been hampering some exports.
The lack of phytosanitary certification was identified as an issue in 2018. So, it seems this issue has been on the agenda, but not a high priority for the government. Since then, government assurances have been used in place of certificates, successfully facilitating Australian exports to countries including South Korea, the USA, Uruguay, and New Zealand.
Political power plays
Based on the timeline of events, we know that earlier in 2020, a Queensland exporter was prevented from sending cannabis/hemp seeds (unclear which) to the USA due to a lack of certification. The issue appears to have then been raised by the exporter with the One Nation party, who have a strong presence in Queensland and are known for being pro-medical cannabis.
We suspect this issue was also previously raised by the exporter with the government, obviously without the desired outcome. One Nation then raised this issue with the government, who did not prioritise it, until One Nation’s vote was needed to secure a vote on industrial relations reforms. At which time, the government suddenly tried to pass the bill on the same day it was introduced.
Plenty of room for improvement
In our assessment, this is a positive reform that addresses a small regulatory issue in Australia’s cannabis framework, and will help increase our export potential. It would have been preferable, in our assessment, for the government to focus its legislative energies on the long-standing recommendations from the McMillan Review into the Narcotic Drugs Act and Regulation. Although the Review was concluded in September 2019, many of the substantive recommendations – which require legislative amendments – have not been actioned.
It would also be productive for the government to form an official position on the more recent recommendations made by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee from mid-March 2020 regarding patient barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Keneally, in her reading of the Certification of Narcotic Exports Bill, argued that
“It is also time to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to medicinal cannabis, starting with [the government] responding to the recommendations made by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee.”
This is the first example we are aware of a member of either major party calling for these recommendations to be responded to. The Labor party does not, to our knowledge, have an official position on any of those recommendations. If the government, or the Labor party, want to demonstrate true policy leadership on this issue, they could start there.
FreshLeaf Analytics, a division of Southern Cannabis Holdings, is the leading supplier of data about the medicinal cannabis industry in Australia. We have access to medicinal cannabis product, pricing and clinical data sets from some of Australia’s leading healthcare companies and organisations. The FreshLeaf Analytics team can be contacted on +61 2 8203 8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org