Four marijuana mega-projects planned
Australian marijuana stocks have cratered and work on one huge growing project is on hold, but three other big cannabis cultivation projects are pushing onwards, raising the prospect of oversupply and an eventual shakeout in the industry, one expert says.
"It's a very worrisome situation," said Mark Bemberg, chief executive of the Green Fund investment consultancy.
"There is just going to be so much cannabis at some point. It's ballsy and it's risky. ... There will be a tremendous oversupply."
The biggest project - in Australia and the world - is being planned in southeast Queensland, by the Australian subsidiary of Canadian marijuana company Asterion Cannabis.
The $500 million project close to Toowoomba has been granted Major Project Status by the federal government but is still waiting on a licence from the Office of Drug Control before site work begins.
Asterion's Australian director of communications Dave Holland said the massive project would employ up to 1,200 people working at a 75 hectare facility that stretches 1.3 kilometres.
"It's very hard to wrap one's head around the scale," Mr Holland said of the project, which would be capable of harvesting 20,000 plants per day for up to 500,000 kilograms of dry flower annually.
Meanwhile, Victoria's Cannatrek received Office of Drug Control permits in September for a $160 million facility near Shepparton that will include a 160,000-square-metre high-tech glasshouse capable of producing 160,000 kilograms of cannabis per year.
Chief executive Tommy Huppert said the project would create more than 400 jobs a year for the region.
Privately held Canngea is also planning a facility in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW that's capable of producing 15,000 kilograms of cannabis annually for business customers.
While not as massive as the other projects, the 11,000 square metre "pharmaceutical grade" indoor facility would still be as big as a good-sized Bunnings Warehouse.
Canngea director Nial Wheate said the indoor facility would allow it to precisely control the amount of the active ingredients THC and CBD in the cannabis plants it plans to supply to other marijuana companies.
"We can completely control the environment in which we grow our plants," Dr Wheate said.
The goal is for Canngea's medical cannabis to be used in clinical trials and eventually be listed in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, eliminating the cumbersome process of patients having to obtain a special exemption to use an unauthorised drug, he said.
At November 30, the Therapeutic Goods Administration had only approved 24,000 medicinal cannabis applications, although that figure is growing by a few thousand each month.
Still, if one assumes a regular cannabis user might smoke a gram of the drug a day, that would only come to about a third of a kilogram per patient a year, putting the tens and hundreds of thousands of kilos these projects are projecting into perspective.
Of course there are also opportunities for Australian cannabis overseas, particularly if New Zealand opts to legalise recreational marijuana in a non-binding referendum set for next year, as well as further abroad.
Asterion's facility is planned to be located near Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, and Mr Holland said the company hopes to export $1 billion to $2 billion worth of cannabis annually.
"We're actively pursuing overseas markets," Cannatrek's Mr Huppert said.
But with North America well-stocked by Canadian cannabis, Mr Bemberg said that export opportunities might be limited.
"These guys will tell you they're selling into Europe. But everyone and their dog tells you're they're going to sell into Europe," he said. "And they're growing their own pot there as well."
In one sign of trouble for the Australian industry, ASX-listed Cann Group recently stopped work on one of Australia's highest-profile cannabis projects, a $184 million greenhouse in Mildura, Victoria, capable of producing 70,000 kilograms of cannabis a year.
Cann Group had planned to export most of that pot to its strategic partner, Canada's Aurora Cannabis, one of the world's biggest cannabis companies with a $A5 billion market capitalisation.
But after Aurora announced last month it was delaying construction of its own two major growing facilities in Canada and Denmark, Cann Group suspended work at Mildura after spending $47 million on the project.
It's now looking to build the greenhouse in stages, rather than all at once, but needs to renegotiate funding with its lender, a major Australian bank.
"We remain confident of the long-term strategic value of that project," chief executive Peter Crock told shareholders late last month.
The company's stock has dropped by half since the delay was announced last month and is trading near its all-time lows.
That's also the case for a number of other ASX-listed marijuana stocks including Elixinol Global and Creso Pharma.
Overseas, NYSE-listed global industry leaders Aurora and Canopy Growth are both down significantly this year.
Mr Bemberg said that investor sentiment had never been lower, which would make raising more capital difficult if companies found themselves in trouble.
"There will be space for big growers in Australia, but not all of them," he predicted.
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