Australia’s cannabis companies may have exploded onto the ASX in recent years, generating bemused interest and bad media puns, but their struggle to crack overseas markets means their performance has been decidedly patchy.
Since the federal government opened up the market for scientific and medical marijuana cultivation in February last year, at least 17 companies have popped up on the local exchange. The most recent was Cannpal, which hit the boards in October.
And despite the government legalising medicinal consumption, in November share price performance of the various “pot stocks” has been mixed.
The likes of Cann Group have done eye-wateringly well; the stock is up 200 per cent since listing at 30?? in May.
Both Zelda Therapeutics and Creso Pharma have also enjoyed solid investor attention, up 87 per cent and 138 per cent year-to-date respectively.
The sector has easily outperformed the Small Ordinaries Index, which is up 10 per cent so far this year.
But other marijuana plays are not riding the hype; Perth-based Chapmans is languishing below half a cent. Capital Mining, previously linked to Chapmans, has been stuck in a trading halt so has yet to outline how its cannabis foray is materialising.
“The volatility in the share price movements are indicative of this kind of fledgling industry,” says Matthijs Smith, senior life sciences analyst at Canaccord Genuity and recent author of a well-read report on the industry.
“They’ve been waxing and waning as attitudes are moving around, but overall people are beginning to cotton on that the most widely abused recreational drug is shifting towards genuine medical status.”
Licensing is still the most critical element in the industry, and while it’s fairly simple to get a medicinal or R&D licence from the Office of Drug Control, manufacturing entitlements are more difficult.
“The ODC is wary of any product disappearing,” says Mr Smith.
So far, eight licences have been issued for the cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis, five for cultivation and production for research purposes and four to actually manufacture cannabis products.
The market’s heavyweights, AusCann and Cann Group, have both been granted manufacturing and medicinal licences, while the Hydroponics Company (with its memorable THC ticker) also has a research licence.
MMJ Phytotech, Medlab Clinical, and Creso Pharma have import licences.
“But it’s the lack of export capability that’s really holding these companies back; it’s the next step,” says Mr Smith, pointing out that growing a full plant only takes between three and four months.
“So Australian companies could very quickly serve a global market at scale and at high quality.”
The export infrastructure is already in place, says Mr Smith, given Australia already supplies half the world’s legal poppy feedstock for opioid manufacturing.
If the Australian market mimics that of the exploding North American one, Cannacord says the wholesale value of Australian cannabis could quickly become $400 million a year.
In the US and Canada about 1.2 per cent of people use cannabis for medical purposes, which would translate to around 300,000 people in Australia.
“The economic activity that will unfold from this industry is really rich,” says Mr Smith.”It just doesn’t exist today and there are investors everywhere slowly tuning into this potential.”
A global trend unfolding across markets in Europe and South America as well, medical cannabis is big business.
Just this week, global beverage company Constellation Brands acquired a 9.9 per cent stake – worth $US191 million – in Canopy Growth, the world’s largest publicly traded cannabis company.
The premise of cannibanoid drinks has analysts around the world talking, however Australia is still yet to catch up to the edibles market.
“Once edibles infiltrate Australia, I expect we’ll see local companies go into overdrive,” says Mr Smith.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.