A WONTHAGGI factory will process up to 100,000kg of cannabis a year and turn it into cannabis oil.
MediPharm Labs director, Warren Everitt, who hails from Wonthaggi, last week unveiled plans for the $3 million facility, which he expects will be up and running by the end of the year. It’s expected to employ around 20 people.
It will involve bringing in cannabis plants – not growing them – and then extracting oil, turning them into products such as vaporisers and capsules. Pharmacies will then sell them to patients with a medicinal cannabis prescription.
The facility will be on the corner of Korumburra Road and Cyclone Street, Wonthaggi where Warren has already purchased land and lodged applications with regulatory bodies.
Warren’s part of MediPharm Labs Australia, whose parent company set up a cannabis extraction facility in Canada. They’ll be mirroring that facility’s equipment here.
Why Wonthaggi? The cost of land was a factor, Warren said. The initial factory set-up will also create about 10 to 15 jobs, in addition to around 20 when it’s up and running.
However, international manufacturers have their eyes on Wonthaggi and the broader South Gippsland area as potential areas for growing cannabis.
“The long-term goal is to have a manufacturing facility close to use,” Warren said.
“The cultivators are our partners and they’re looking at the opportunity and location.
“Dairy farmers down here are retiring and a lot of farm land is opening up that’s low cost and within close proximity to water,” Warren said.
“There’s the desalination plant and wind farms, there’s great access to power. With one of those type of cultivation facilities, you’d need 150 to 200 people to cultivate cannabis.”
He said medicinal cannabis is for patients needing pain relief.
“Many of the drugs used to treat pain are opiums and they are hugely addictive. They’re very problematic.
“There are no papers that dictate cannabis is addictive. Many people think it’s a gateway drug, I don’t see that all.
“I think everyone knows someone who has cancer or potentially some sort of epilepsy or condition that’s impacted their lives greatly. There is a need for this product.”
The Greens political party has committed to introducing a bill to legalise recreational cannabis into the Federal Parliament by the end of the year.
“Our business is in the medicinal cannabis, but we can move to recreational down the track,” Warren said.
He said the facility’s security will be the equivalence of a bank, with impenetrable walls and a bank vault.
Armoured trucks will be used to deliver cannabis to the facility.
“The only product people would consider stealing is the original product.
“Once you extract it, it’s like stealing Panadol. You’re not going to get high on it.”
Warren’s also been having meetings with the Environment Protection Authority.
“That’s to understand considerations with where it is, and that the plot of land is within the vicinity of housing,” he said.
“We use Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extraction so there’s no output, it’s not harmful. It’s not going to smell.”
He said the council has approved the construction of the warehouse, in the industrial zone, and Warren will soon lodge an application for the use of the facility; that is the extraction of cannabis.
There are expectations the application to the Federal Government’s Office of Drug Control, to extract and import medical cannabis, will be approved within the next four months.
The next steps are gaining approval from the local council and the Therapeutics Goods Association.
“Our expected start date, when we will be producing cannabis oil, is probably towards the end of this year. But this depends on building construction and the council.”
Warren’s also looking at the possibility of hosting a forum or similar, to address any questions from the community.
The Federal Parliament passed legislation to enable the production and sale of cannabis for medical use and related research purposes in 2016.
“We’re well on the journey,” Warren said. “It’s very exciting.”