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Alternaleaf and Montu Group in court over alleged unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis

The TGA has commenced proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against Montu Group and its subsidiary Alternaleaf and their common director Mr Christopher Strauch, for alleged unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis on websites and social media. 

It is alleged that Montu and Alternaleaf unlawfully advertised medicinal cannabis using terms including ‘medical cannabis’ and ‘plant medicine’ to promote the Alternaleaf online clinic, which enabled patients to purchase prescription-only medicines after completing an online consultation process.

Montu is further alleged to have operated a website during Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week 2023 which advertised medicinal cannabis to the public.

The companies allegedly promoted the use of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of serious diseases, conditions and disorders. Such references are known as restricted representations or prohibited representations and are not allowed to be included in advertising for therapeutic goods unless an approval or permission is given by the TGA. 

The advertisements also allegedly:

  • implied that medicinal cannabis had been approved or recommended by the TGA 

  • represented medicinal cannabis to be safe or without harm or side effects, or magical or miraculous

  • included endorsements from current or former health professionals.

The TGA alleges that Mr Strauch aided, abetted, counselled or procured the alleged contraventions by Montu and Alternaleaf. Additionally, the TGA alleges that Mr Strauch is personally liable for the alleged contraventions by the companies.

Despite repeated warnings by the TGA about the alleged non-compliant advertising, the companies continued to advertise medicinal cannabis. 

Among other orders, the TGA is seeking declarations and pecuniary penalties against Montu, Alternaleaf and Mr Strauch. The TGA is also seeking final injunctions prohibiting the unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis by Montu, Alternaleaf and Mr Strauch, as well as interim injunctions concerning the ongoing promotion of medical cannabis on the Alternaleaf website. 

Advertising prescription-only medicines directly to consumers could create an inappropriate demand for these medicines and lead to unnecessary or harmful prescribing. Appropriate treatment options should be determined by a health professional in consultation with their patient.

The TGA reminds businesses that unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis products is a breach of the Act for which serious penalties can apply, including fines or civil or criminal court action. 

The TGA continues to take strong enforcement action to deter and disrupt unlawful advertising of medicinal cannabis, as a priority.

This court action follows the TGA’s civil penalty proceedings against another medicinal cannabis company in December 2023. Over the last 2 years, the TGA has issued 119 infringement notices (totalling over $1.4 million) in response to concerns about alleged unlawful advertising in the medicinal cannabis industry.

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