Researchers from Murdoch University have touted Christmas Island as the future home of Australia’s medicinal cannabis industry.

The cannabis plant.
The cannabis plant.

Residents of Christmas Island, a tiny island territory of Australia in the middle of the Indian Ocean, have long been seeking ways to broaden their economy, which is heavily dependent on phosphate mining and the highly controversial immigration detention centre.

In 2012, the Mining-to-Plant Enterprises (MINTOPE) project – a collaboration between Murdoch University, Christmas Island Phosphates and the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development – was established to investigate the possibility of using former phosphate mining leases for agriculture. The results of their studies were quite surprising.

Long thought to have an environment unsuitable for agriculture, John Howieson, research leader for Murdoch University's Centre for Rhizobium Studies, claims otherwise.  He and his team inocculated the roots of legumes with a rhizobium (bacteria), allowing the plants to convert nitrogen from the air into protein. Proving, Howieson told the ABC, ‘that you can grow anything you like as long as it's adapted to the subtropics.” Welcome news for an island on which an imported lettuce costs AU$16.

The findings open up the possibility of a new commercial venture, as the island’s geographical isolation and pristine environment make it the perfect environment for growing medicinal cannabis.

Though legislation that will legalise the growing of cannabis for medicinal purposes is not due to be introduced to Australian Parliament until the end of the year, investors in the rapidly growing medicinal cannabis industry seem confident it will pass. AusCann, a Perth-based medicinal cannabis company, hopes to begin trials growing industrial-grade hemp on Christmas Island as early as January next year.

Explore related stories

Travel inspiration delivered directly to your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletters and promotions. Read our Privacy Policy.