Federal Politics

Christmas Island medical cannabis plan: community expresses concern

Plans to grow Australia's first commercial crop of medical cannabis at Christmas Island have met resistance from some locals, who fear that islanders won't see the financial benefits and drugs may end up in the hands of local youths.

The cannabis proposal is the latest of a series of developments that have raised the ire of Christmas Island residents, who say the controversial detention centre damages efforts to grow the island's tourism industry and a reduction in the frequency of government-contracted planes means mail is frequently delayed.

Medical marijuana plan "needs to be approved by the community": Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson.
Medical marijuana plan "needs to be approved by the community": Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Australian firm AusCann announced last month it will plant trial medical cannabis crops on Christmas Island, 2600 kilometres northwest of Perth.

Subject to changes in federal law and the success of the pilot, the company intends to plant the first commercial crop for the domestic market in late 2016, and is confident of winning support from locals.

But Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson said it was not yet known if cannabis was the best crop to advance agriculture on the island as the community seeks new economic drivers and a reduced reliance on imported food.

He said other residents fear cannabis will enter the island's illicit market and be used by young people.

"If medicinal marijuana is a crop that can be legally grown on Christmas Island then that needs to be approved by the community," Mr Thomson said.

A research partnership between Murdoch University and mining firm Christmas Island Phosphates has been examining whether crops can be established on exhausted mining leases on the island.

In a separate project, researchers have also studied the viability of growing cannabis on the island.

However, the broader research project is expected to take years and Mr Thomson said "we don't like the idea that AusCann would just walk in and start without any consultation".

Mr Thomson said should such a venture proceed, the community should retain control and derive financial benefits.

He warned that many in the community also feared "what could happen with the local young people being affected by the drug", adding that he did not personally hold those concerns.

AusCann managing director Elaine Darby said the company would not start a commercial crop "until we have full community consultation".

She said initial discussions had been held with a small number of people on the island, which involved a private landholder potentially growing the crops.

AusCann was investigating ways to deliver financial benefits back to the community, and the venture would employ locals and boost the economy, Ms Darby said, adding "we would be very, very conscious to ensure none of our product would enter the illicit market".

A spokesman for Territories Minister Paul Fletcher said the government has not received a formal proposal to grow medicinal cannabis on the island and "there is currently no legislation in place" to allow it.

"Should any such proposal be received, the government would consider the proposal on its merits, taking account of a range of factors," he said.

The government is expected to introduce a national scheme for the controlled growing of medicinal cannabis into Parliament in 2016.