Australians lack access to medication that should be freely available – leaving sufferers of chronic pain, epilepsy and other conditions turning to the black market for help, writes Co-CEO Alexandra Mayhew.

In November 2015 the Federal Parliament finally – but unanimously – legalised medical cannabis. This development came markedly later than many other countries, like Canada and the United States.

Almost two years later most Australians that should have access to this life-changing medication remain unable to source it.

This is due largely to two factors: a slow regulatory process, complicated by different state and territory regulations; and lack of support from the Australian Medical Association (AMA), meaning doctors are not seeking the approvals they require to be certified to prescribe medical cannabis.

It should be made clear: medical cannabis is not smoked and does not result in patients getting ‘high’. It’s a prescription medication like any other and it’s in dire shortage.

Enter Medicinal Organic Cannabis Australia (MOCA) – an innovative company that launched in Australia just last month. MOCA is an Australian medical grade cannabis company seeking government licences to undertake research, importation, production and cultivation of cannabis for human medicinal purposes. The company is planning to build a $20m pharmaceutical grade cannabis cultivation and production facility in the country using an innovative technique involving, of all things, fish.

MOCA is bringing a unique cultivation technique from Canada, which will produce the purest and highest-quality product at a much lower price than conventional cultivation.

MOCA is not a pharmaceutical company. This young company believes in sustainability and this belief is evidenced by the use of this unique aquaponics system – a system created by Canadian company Green Relief.

In the aquaponics process, plants, fish, and microbes develop into a natural ecosystem for growing organic cannabis. There is no discharge of damaging wastewater or soil into the environment. Quality is guaranteed, as harmful chemicals and pesticides cannot be used in an aquaponics system as they would harm the fish.

Australia is the smallest of the world’s continents. It is also the lowest, the flattest and (apart from Antarctica) the driest. The aquaponics system uses 90 per cent less water than conventional agriculture – so MOCA will produce the highest quality product for human consumption while having the smallest environmental footprint.

What’s really interesting though is the fish. The by-product of cultivating cannabis using an aquaponics system is that organic fish, such as barramundi and tilapia, are bred and can be marketed to restaurants and fish markets. Green Relief produced over 10 tonnes of organic fish in one year in a facility the same size as MOCA’s and donated the fish to charity.

According to Epilepsy Action Australia, approximately 240,000 Australians suffer with epilepsy at any given time. Epilepsy Action Australia goes on to say: “Many families, having exhausted all conventional treatment options, tentatively embarked on a journey with cannabis based products to ease their child’s suffering in the time they had left. As a result some children experienced seizure freedom for the first time in their lives, while other families tell of their child reaching milestones no one ever thought possible”.

While the private sector is stepping in to provide much need medicine to so very many Australians in need, more needs to be done to quicken access to the life-changing medication.