Regional Startups 4 MIN READ

Since Victoria has become the first Australian state to legalise the manufacture and supply of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes, cultivators have begun the lengthy process of securing an Australian licence. Chris Nasr is one such cultivator who is currently seeking $6 million in investment to become the first cultivator of the drug in regional Victoria through his startup LeafCann.

Approval of licensing is very much a waiting game, with the hopes the Commonwealth Government will give cultivators the green light to start their operations in early 2017. LeafCann is currently in talks with the Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford to establish trial crops and move them forward into operation.

Nasr’s involvement in the medicinal cannabis industry comes from a personal experience, and a common health crisis. Five years ago his aunt suffered a severe stroke and lost movement in half her body. Nasr said that she was doing well until she became dependent on painkillers and morphine patches.

“She really started to decline. We went searching for an alternative medicine, and came across medical cannabis as probably the best solution. I couldn’t get that to my aunty and she sadly passed away in the middle of last year,” said Nasr.

After his aunt’s passing Nasr thought about how he could make medicinal cannabis a viable solution for Australia and how the drug could help people who live who live with chronic illness and disease.

Nasr said if the drug was legalised earlier he would have put his aunt on the medicinal cannabis pathway, especially towards the later stages.

“My aunty suffered from severe appetite loss, she couldn’t eat, so her body just continued to deteriorate. With more research and education into medicinal cannabis you can see the properties it has to counter all those effects of pharmaceutical medication.”

Since the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in places around the world, there has been a long winded debate on the positive effect cannabis has on people afflicted with pain from chronic illnesses and diseases like cancer. According to Emeritus Professor of Anaesthesia Laurence Mather, cannabis’s therapeutic benefits stem from the way it stimulates the body’s own method of making us feel good.

“The endocannabinoid system in the body is not a pain relieving system like the endorphin system, like for morphine-type things, it’s more a general wellbeing system, and it works by making people feel more comfortable with themselves,” Mather told the ABC.

In 2005 the New South Wales Government proposed a trial of medicinal use of cannabis and found that 57 percent of respondents said they used cannabis frequently for chronic pain, 56 and overall 86 percent of respondents said that they perceived cannabis to provide “great relief”.

Despite the proven health benefits medicinal cannabis has, in NSW any cannabis possession is considered as a criminal offence and in most states across Australia the drug has been considered a Schedule nine drug, placing it in the same category as drugs like heroin.

Overlooking this high level drug rating, use of cannabis in Australia is common in approximately 40 percent of people aged 14 and above, with more than 300,000 Australians saying they use it daily. Many of these people are using cannabis illegally to self medicate for reasons of chronic pain, depression, arthritis, nausea and weight loss.

According to The Hip Pocket the demand for cannabis based medicines has been incredibly popular, making it an ideal new market for investment. The cannabis market is now legally open for companies looking to invest. For example, listed on the ASX, Medical Cannabis Business Pharmaceuticals is experiencing a 27 percent rise on its share price currently.

Nasr said that he saw the dark side of pharmaceutical drugs and many people look for an alternative to manage their pain and the side effects of living with long term health issues.

With headquarters in Victoria and a team of advisory experts, LeafCann will be working on a ‘Seed to Sale’ model focused on Australian-based research and development, manufacturing and distribution of medical cannabis.

There will be a select group of patients eligible for the drug, ranging from people with epilepsy, MS, chronic pain and cancer patients. It is with the hope that these people will be able to access the drug sometime next year. The cost of the drug and the procedure to obtain it are still uncertain.

The government has yet to release a pricing model, but Nasr said he will be working with the agricultural minister to produce a conservative figure to keep the price as low as possible.

Due to security reasons, Nasr can’t give away the location of his farm, however with the help of local farmers LeafCann aims to annually produce 1000 kilos, which will be sold to the government and then sold to pharmacies who will distribute it to eligible patients.

Victoria has also set up an Office of Medicinal Cannabis to regulate the drug’s distribution and use. A secret cannabis crop has already been approved and planted. The crop is already on the way to undergo rigorous testing medical and scientific testing.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told the ABC that children suffering from epilepsy will be the first to benefit from medicinal cannabis next year and other medical cohorts are expected to be eligible by 2018.

Andrews said people suffering from multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and cancer were likely to be next in line.

“I want every patient who might benefit from medicinal cannabis to be able to get that product safely and legally,” he said. “For too long too many people have found reasons not to do this.”

To secure the funds needed to take LeafCann off the ground, Nasr has signed a deal with social enterprise accelerator One10.

The accelerator, which has been a strong advocate for real impact startups, is helping LeafCann secure its first Series A capital raise of $6 million, which will help the startup built its facility in regional Victoria, buy appropriate equipment, and provide working capital to move the business forward.

Pushing on, Nasr will continue to heavily promote the use of medicinal cannabis and hopes that by the end of the year LeafCann will attain permission to conduct a research and trial crop to start testing what genetic strains are best to grow.

“Having a purpose is really what we’re all about and our purpose is to get this product to patients while advocating education and specific research to pioneer the movement of this medical cannabis industry.”

Image: Chris Nasr. Source: Supplied.

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