The dope man behind Shepparton’s new medicinal cannibas facility

By John Lewis

Watching a friend suffer from PTSD after a car accident was the spur to creating a planned $160 million medicinal cannabis facility in Greater Shepparton.

Cannatrek chief executive Tommy Huppert said the accident caused a head injury that resulted in depression, which was being unsuccessfully treated with traditional medicine.

"They were considering using cannabis, but they were worried about the legality of it," Mr Huppert said.

"That was a turning point for me. We believe half a million people were using it illegally for medical reasons in Australia. That's been a big ethical issue."

The St Kilda-based businessman said documentaries A Life of Its Own by Australian journalist Helen Kapalos and High as Mike about the personal and legal battles to make marijuana available for medical use in Australia also inspired him to look further into the subject.

An economics and accounting graduate of Monash University, Mr Huppert, 53, worked as an accountant before starting an outdoor travel business in Japan and later a pita bread manufacturing business in Melbourne.

His research into the production of medicinal cannabis led him to Israel, which he said was one of the first countries in the world to start production five years ago.

Mr Huppert said within two years, 20 000 Israeli patients were using medicinal cannabis.

He believes Australia will have 20 000 approvals for use of the product by the end of this year.

He said there are between 300 000 and 500 000 people in Australia who could benefit from the use of medicinal cannabis to treat chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

And while imported products currently sell for between $100 and $500, depending on the strength, he hopes to make it as affordable as possible for Australian patients.

"Our hope has always been to improve the quality of life for people," he said.

Mr Huppert said people who have been using medicinal cannabis have been paying up to $20 000 a year for daily treatment.

"That's really hard for families — it's mission impossible," he said.

"That's why the (Shepparton) project needs to be at scale — to make it affordable."

He said now that planning approval has been granted by Greater Shepparton City Council, he hoped the 72ha facility at an undisclosed location would be in production by the second half of next year.

When not overseeing his growing business, the father of five said he enjoys spending time outdoors.

"I used to be a keen surfer," he said.

"I love nature and spending time with my family. I'm a family man for sure."