Australia’s cannabis regulator has issued more than $600,000 in fines

| David Brown

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued 35 infringement notices totalling six cannabis businesses and two individuals for the alleged unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis on their websites and social media platforms.

The businesses include licensed medicinal cannabis manufacturers and importers, a health clinic, and a retailer. The TGA alleges that each business unlawfully promoted the use and supply of prescription-only medicinal cannabis.

The total of the fines is AUD$ 627,252 (CAD$ 571,355). The six infringement notices were issued to Botanic Wellness Limited (13 notices for a total of $244,140), Grandiosa Imports Pty Ltd (7 and $131,460), Releaf Group Limited (7 and $131,460), NectarTek Australia Pty Ltd (4 and $75,120), Turkken Pty Ltd and a WA-based individual (2 and $22,536), Cymra Life Sciences Ltd (1 $18,780), and a NSW-based individual (sole-trader) (1 and $3,756).

These businesses also allegedly endorsed the use of medicinal cannabis for treating serious diseases, conditions and disorders, such as cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. These references are considered restricted or prohibited representations under Australia’s regulations and are not allowed in advertising for therapeutic goods unless they receive prior approval or permission from the TGA. 

In some instances, the advertisements also allegedly included violations such as indirect references to medicinal cannabis, such as ‘plant medicine’, implied that medicinal cannabis had been approved or recommended by the TGA, and promoted their own prescription-only medicinal cannabis products. Cannabis products for medical purposes are unapproved medicines in Australia and are not entered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

Advertising prescription-only medicines, like cannabis, for medical purposes directly to consumers is prohibited in Australia. The unlawful advertising of prescription-only medicines, which includes medicinal cannabis, is a breach of the country’s Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, and penalties can include fines or even civil or criminal court action.

The TGA has initiated two civil penalties and issued 165 infringement notices in the past two years, for a total of $2.3 million in penalties to organizations and individuals for the alleged unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis.

In May, the TGA announced it had issued 11 infringement notices, totalling $171,972, to Better Leaf Pty Ltd. and an individual for the alleged unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis on its website and social media platforms. In the same month, a National Rugby League club agreed to remove branding from medical cannabis company Alternaleaf from its jerseys and on signages displayed at stadiums during its games.

In April, the TGA began proceedings against Montu Group Pty Ltd., its subsidiary Alternaleaf Pty Ltd., and their common director, Mr. Christopher Strauch, for alleged unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis on websites and social media. 

The Alternaleaf logo on a team shirt of a National Rugby League club

The regulators allege that Montu and Alternaleaf unlawfully advertised medicinal cannabis using terms including ‘medical cannabis’ and ‘plant medicine’ to promote the Alternaleaf online clinic. Montu is further alleged to have operated a website during Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week 2023 which advertised medicinal cannabis to the public, also against the TGA’s marketing rules.

The agency also recently shared testing info conducted on 21 medicinal cannabis products sold in Australia for the presence of Delta-8-THC. Although no Delta-8 was detected, one product (Cannatrek) was found to be outside of the allowable 90.0-110.0% of label claim for THC.

A list of authorized cannabis manufacturers and importers in Australia can be found here