Matt Cantelo in the cannabis greenhouse.
Matt Cantelo in the cannabis greenhouse.

$400m cannabis farm to create 1000 jobs

One of the world's biggest medicinal cannabis production facilities is planned for Queensland amid surging demand for the pain relief medicine.

The $400m growing and processing facility near the regional city of Toowoomba could produce 500 tonnes of the medicine each year and generate 1000 jobs.

The project follows the merger of Byron Bay-based Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG) and Toronto's Canadian Asterion Cannabis.

Construction of the 75ha complex adjacent to the Wellcamp Airport west of Toowoomba is scheduled to begin in the next few months, with the first 10ha glasshouse and manufacturing facility operating by the end of next year.

ANTG chief executive and founder Matt Cantelo said the agreement represented a "golden opportunity" for Australia to reach its full potential in growing and cultivating medicinal cannabis, serving both domestic and export markets.

The company earlier this year signed a $92m, nine-year deal with Germany's Cannamedical Pharma to export commercially-grown Australian medical cannabis flowers to Europe.

"We have the gold standard in our regulatory framework, depth of research and climate for growing excellent produce," Mr Cantelo said. "What we haven't had is the option of scale. Once we get scale, we will ensure medicinal cannabis is more accessible to Australians."

Australia legalised the cultivation of medicinal cannabis at the federal level in 2016, allowing access to a global market now worth an estimated $22bn. Uses include pain relief for cancer, arthritis, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Although Australia is relatively late in legalising medicinal cannabis, over the past four years the government has approved about 30 licences to cultivate, produce or manufacture the medicine. They include Melbourne-based Cann Group, which listed on the ASX in 2017, and Western Australia's AusCann.

Matt Cantelo in the cannabis greenhouse.
Matt Cantelo in the cannabis greenhouse.

Mr Cantelo said the company planned to purchase land for the facility from the Wagner family, which owns the Wellcamp Airport and is one of the biggest supporters of the project.

"We have had a lot of support from local and state authorities and communities," he said. "This is an important regional project and job creator."

He said fundraising for the project was still being finalised, but could include an initial public offering next year. "We are looking at ramping up the project fairly quickly, but it will be dependent on demand," he said.

Mr Cantelo, a former senior executive with Brisbane-based Corporate Travel Management, first became interested in medicinal cannabis after working in 2011 in the US state of Colorado, which has legalised the drug.

"There was a young girl with Tourette Syndrome who was having all these seizures, but whose condition was helped with medicinal cannabis," he said. "At the same time, my father was suffering from cancer in Australia but we did not have access to it."

He said medicinal cannabis was one of the fastest-growing sectors in the pharmaceutical ­industry.


Originally published as $400m cannabis farm to create 1000 jobs