Two Whangarei women are applying for a license to grow medicinal cannabis on 2ha of land near the city.
They said they expected their plans to grow crops for medical research will raise some ”debate” and opposition.
Their motivation was to help ease the suffering of people with a variety of illnesses or conditions which medical cannabis, or hemp oil, has been proven to relieve, they said.
The women said they had seen its benefits in people they knew or had worked with in the health sector — including mental illness, chronic pain, loss of life quality through terminal conditions or side-effects of other medication, epilepsy and children with seizures.
At present there are often financial, supply and legal barriers stopping people being able to access the drug, they said. They believe commercializing its New Zealand production and making it available through medical prescriptions would be fair, practical and reduce stigma.
For security reasons and because of the ”delicate” stage of their license application with the Ministry of Health (MoH), they asked the Northern Advocate not to print their names.
One of the women had been in consultation with ministry officials and politicians about the process of obtaining a license to grow hemp and other cannabis varieties, but there was some grey area around the criteria, she said.
”I have done years of research and studied as much information on the subject as possible.
”As soon as we get the okay we’ll be ready to go.”
The ministry confirmed it has one application from a potential grower from Northland, but could not name the applicant.
The women plan to build an indoor growing facility for 5000 cloned plants to begin with, and install state-of-the-art security.
While starting small and supplying the harvest to laboratories to extract and dispense the medicinal oil (CBD), the women and their silent business partners envisage future growth, even employing a small number of people.
They said the New Zealand industry would inevitably move from growing only on a clinical trial basis to private cultivator companies having their own laboratories and chemists, growing and processing medical cannabis oil and other products strictly under license.
”It’s coming to the point in New Zealand when it’s going to happen.”
Currently by law, cannabis can be grown only for research and clinical trials related to medical use. Any plant of the genus cannabis is classified as a prohibited plant under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, administered by MoH.
”A potential cultivator of cannabis for medicinal purposes can request an application form for a license to cultivate a prohibited plant,” Chris James, group manager of Medsafe (MoH) said.
That is also the case for industrial hemp cultivated for non-medicinal purposes, another area the Whangarei women want to explore.
Applications are assessed by the MoH in consultation with police and any other relevant government agency. The MoH received six applications in 2017 for licenses to cultivate cannabis for scientific or medicinal purposes, Mr James said.
Hikurangi Enterprises, based in Ruatoria, is gearing up for its second season of hemp production, and is currently New Zealand’s largest legal grower for medical research.
Hawke’s Bay company Kanapu grows and produces Hemp Seed Oil for cooking. Hemp is also grown in many countries as a fiber.
The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill introduced in December to make medicinal cannabis more available:
● Gave a statutory defense for terminally ill or chronic pain sufferers to possess and use cannabis.
● Removed cannabidiol from the schedule of controlled drugs.
● Did not make it legal for the terminally ill, but decriminalized such use.
● Cannabidiol is a class B1 controlled drug in New Zealand, but also a prescription medicine under the Medicines Act.
The medicinal and psychoactive effects of cannabis, or marijuana, come from cannabinoids in the plant.
● The major psychoactive ingredient is THC.
● Cannabidiol (CBD), a major ingredient in the prescription medicine Sativex, is most prevalent in hemp varieties and is not psychoactive.
● CBD’s medicinal properties are anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-epileptic and sedative.