‘Whole plant’ medical cannabis business raising funds despite political drag

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Bhakthi Puvanenthiran

Raising seed funding for a medical cannabis start-up is just half the battle.

Chris Nasr is the changing face of medical cannabis.Chris Nasr is the changing face of medical cannabis. Photo: Supplied

Entrepreneurs are jostling for position in the nascent but lucrative medical cannabis industry, even as political and legal traction is proving difficult.

Take Chris Nasr, founder of LeafCann, who represents the contemporary face of the medical cannabis industry.

A 24-year-old electrician from a conservative Arabic family, Nasr is hard to dismiss as law-flouting drug user.

Medical cannabis trials are happening in Australia with positive results.
Medical cannabis trials are happening in Australia with positive results. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Nasr’s discovery of the herbal treatment came after his aunt suffered a stroke and was struggling with pain management.
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“Morphine was actually causing her more pain, so we went on a hunt for alternatives and cannabis seemed like the one that would have the best impact,” he said.

“My brother and I were already running an electrical business together, which he is still doing. But my aunt’s experience inspired us to make this passion into a business model. Sadly my aunt died before she could receive the treatment.”

According to a University of Sydney report, treatment for multiple sclerosis is a $100 million industry waiting to be born, as it has been in the US where over 20 states have legalised the treatment.

Nasr is trying to raise $6 million in seed funding for his company, which aims to distinguish itself with a “whole leaf” approach.

Most existing players in the billion dollar global medical cannabis industry focus on extracting one compound known as CBD from the cannabis plant and creating a synthetic.

“It is believed that it may be a combination of many of these compounds together that may provide the greatest therapeutic effect, rather than such individual cannabinoids in isolation,” says scientific advisor to LeafCann and University of Adelaide senior lecturer Scott Smid.

That would include the smells and tastes of the cannabis plant to create oils, tinctures, topical treatments and sprays.

Nasr says he has all the pieces in place. The government licensing paperwork is ready to go. A 70-page security plan is written. He even has a five-year plan that involves the UN declassifying cannabis that will open up export markets.

But as high as the stakes are, entrepreneurs in this area face an uphill political battle.

Australian Sex Party founder and Victorian MP Fiona Patten said both major parties and the Greens have been “backpedalling” on pushing forward with medical cannabis after it was legalised in Victoria in 2015.

“If I was trying to get a business like that off the ground, I would be worried about timelines,” Patten said.

“The legalisation of medical cannabis is inevitable, but we are going at a much slower rate than any other country.”

The Victorian state government is currently cultivating cannabis for use on children with epilepsy but the law does not allow products to be used by adults. Without an adult market, Patten has concerns for the success of the industry.

“I’m saddened the drug is only allowed to go to a small cohort. How is it ever going to be economically viable? How can you ever get the price right?”

Nasr remains optimistic. His once reluctant family has agreed to let him use a property in regional Victoria for growing the plant, though he must keep its location a secret for security reasons.

“It’s important to continue to advocate for education and scientific research as this will allow the political stigma around cannabis and psychoactive compounds found in cannabis to dissolve,” he said.

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