Sharon Bentley: Pioneering Medical Cannabis Down Under

Sharon Bentley, the female founder of an Australian cannabis firm, is also one of the leaders of the domestic industry with an eye set firmly on Europe.
Sharon Bentley
Courtesy of Sharon Bentley

Sharon Bentley is, in the lingo of her country, a “sheila” who is also on a green mission she is passionately pursuing with a dedication that has seen her not only create a company but has begun to shape the Australian domestic market. Medical Cannabis Australia, the company she founded, just obtained its cultivation and manufacture licenses from the Office of Drug Control (ODC) in April of this year.

The daughter of two immigrants to Australia (her mother is from Liverpool, and her father is from a small village north of Lebanon), Bentley grew as one of six children up in a small country village in New South Wales with a population of less than 100 people. She traveled 170 kilometers a day by bus to school and back.

After graduating from high school, she moved to Sydney and started a career in the legal industry as a paralegal. After a few years of working in the legal industry, with the original goal of becoming a lawyer, she left the industry because, in her words, “it wasn’t exciting and thrilling enough.” She moved into the television business with a major Australian network where she quickly was promoted into the position of National Travel Manager.

At the age of 29, she left production and started a hospitality business which she built up into one of the best-known entertainment restaurants in Sydney. One of the reasons in fact she feels so at home in the cannabis industry is that after 20 years in the liquor business, she is no stranger to working in a highly regulated environment. High Times chatted with Bentley to learn more about the personal experience that caused her to be passionate about medical cannabis.

What motivated you to enter the industry?

I am sorry to say it, but I was once a cannabis critic. After watching my brother self-medicate for his chronic pain for decades, I didn’t understand how cannabis was important to him as a medicine. I always thought he used his chronic pain as an “excuse” to self-administer what I thought was a toxic drug.  

During a social trip to the U.S. in 2014, I watched my brother walk into a cannabis clinic. It had a dispensary out the front, and the doctors prescribing the medicines were out the back. Coming from Australia, we were shocked that cannabis was being sold as “medicine” and not the illicit drug I always thought it to be.  

My brother walked in and made an appointment with the doctor. When he walked out, I saw a different person. What I saw was an enormous amount of relief in his face and his entire body. I can’t imagine how it must have felt for him after suffering from chronic pain all of these years, being outcast as a criminal for choosing a natural alternative that didn’t give him the same horrific side effects as the opiates he was originally prescribed. For the first time, he was a patient and not a criminal.

Upon returning to Australia, it took another two years before Australia legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. I attended my first medical cannabis symposium in Sydney in 2016. This event saw doctors and researchers from all over the world presenting the scientific and clinical studies surrounding the medical benefits of cannabis.  

They presented case studies about patients who have had incredible success from their cannabis treatments. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but this was definitely the tipping point for me. This was when I decided I just had to be a part of the cannabis industry. I want to be a part of the change that sees patients become able to access quality cannabis medicines and to change lives.

Sharon Bentley
Courtesy of Sharon Bentley

Sharon Bentley on Cannabis as Medicine

Where are you now? Describe MCA and the mission of the company.

For the past four years, I have worked full-time in the cannabis industry, learning everything I can about every aspect of the cultivation and supply chain to determine where MCA can add value to the industry. What we have found, particularly in Australia, is that whilst patients are now able to access cannabis medicines, the products are too expensive, and there is no consistency of products, particularly when it comes to dried flower. 

That means that when a patient goes back to the pharmacist for a repeat of a medicine that works for them, it is often not available. Due to largely changing environmental conditions during the cultivation process, most cannabis companies have not been able to achieve accuracy and consistency of finished flower medicines. Similar to the wine industry, it is difficult to achieve consistency, batch to batch, year to year.  

With our state-of-the-art greenhouse technology, we can duplicate the exact growing environment for our plants, crop after crop (i.e., day/night, temperature, humidity). Along with our unique growing strategy and stable genetics, MCA will be able to cultivate perfectly consistent cannabis medicines all year round, ensuring that patients can access the medicine that works for them, every time they need it.  

In addition to that, we are implementing a state-of-the-art, hybrid power station, which will greatly reduce our ongoing production costs. With a focus on high THC products, MCA is capable of producing high quality cannabis at very competitive pricing, which will in turn mean that we are helping more patients and really changing lives.

Sharon Bentley
Courtesy of Sharon Bentley

Where do you see your firm in the next 10 years?

MCA will continue to focus on the development of brands and products, with a focus on high-THC products. We will be investing heavily in research and development and clinical trials to develop a full range of medicines, ready for registration and marketing authorization in Australia and Europe. 

As a company in an emerging industry like cannabis, MCA is focused on adaptability. We have designed every aspect of our facility and business with this in mind. As the industry and global regulations evolve, we intend to be able to adapt quickly to the growing demands in any new markets.

Where are you planning on selling?

MCA has a particular focus and relationships already in place in Australia, Germany, and Poland.  

Through collaboration with industry in Australia, MCA products will become available to the global market in early 2022. Our initial product line will include a range of high THC flower, oils, tablets, and terpenes.

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