The Australian government has announced plans to boost the nation’s medicinal cannabis by speeding up the licensing process for ambitious firms.

Any projects that can create jobs, improve export prospects or develop the industry will be assigned Major Project Status and those licensing applications will be expedited. The Office of Drug Control has already issued 69 licences to cultivate, produce or manufacture medicinal cannabis, but it now wants to give the nascent industry a shot in the arm.

The idea is to strip out layers of red tape that make the licensing process onerous and ensure major projects get underway as quickly as possible.

“The Morrison Government is committed to making it as streamlined as possible for companies to invest and do business in Australia, so we can grow the economy and create new jobs,” said Karen Andrews, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. “The projects will still have to meet all of the approvals required, but this arrangement will make sure that they are not being held up by unnecessary delays.”

The new, streamlined process will come into force on September 1, 2019. It follows Professor John McMillan’s strategic review of the Narcotic Drugs Act. He made 26 recommendations around improving efficiency in the medicinal marijuana sector, and the government has agreed in principle to adopt all of them.

As of June 30, 2019, more than 10,000 Australian patients have received cannabis prescriptions. Minister for Health said the new arrangement will make it easier for doctors to access medicinal cannabis products more rapidly, but the government promised to maintain “strict safeguards for individual and community safety”.

Businesses qualifying for Major Project Status must ensure that estimated investment exceeds AU$50 million ($34 million). They must also prove their ability to make a significant contribution to economic growth, export, employment or infrastructure development.

The budding medical cannabis industry really should be able to tick all of those boxes. The government said that projects in rural areas and certain regions would be prioritised.

Changes to the Narcotic Drugs Regulation Act 2016 will reduce the regulatory burden on licence applicants, while reducing the time it takes to apply and the level of detail that is required. It will also streamline the process so that one license covers cultivation, production, manufacture and research.

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