Medicinal cannabis companies have mixed feelings about referendum outcome

9:34 am on 11 November 2020

A medicinal cannabis company is relieved the referendum went up in smoke, saying more research into the drug is needed.

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File image. Photo: 123RF

Meanwhile, other companies are disappointed in the result but they say the result won't shake their business too much.

The cannabis referendum recently flopped by a slim margin - 50.7 percent of New Zealanders said no, but 48.4 percent supported the legalisation of recreational cannabis.

Doctors can already prescribe medicinal cannabis, but New Zealand companies are still developing products for use.

The first MedCan summit took place yesterday, drawing dozens of industry members to Auckland's Aotea Centre.

Among those attending the summit was Greenlab director Parmjit Randhawa.

Greenlab, a Christchurch-based medicinal cannabis company, is aiming to make its market debut next year.

Randhawa was glad that the referendum failed to pass, as he did not think there was enough research on the active compounds in cannabis, or consistent results from clinical trials.

"Before we start running, we should start walking."

Research and development into medicinal cannabis, along with growing the plant in a fully controlled environment, was costly - meaning the the product would also be expensive at first, he said.

"You can't grow it like a normal agriculture crop. You can't use any pesticides - it's a medicine, it's going to immunocompromised patients ... it will be expensive at the start but you are basically getting a medicine."

Helius Therapeutics chief executive Paul Manning was disappointed by the referendum result, but said it would not pull the rug out from beneath his business.

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Helius Therapeutics chief executive Paul Manning. Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

"We looked at the referendum, if it passed, as a wonderful bonus for our industry. It would have made access to these products much easier and it would have lowered the cost and other barriers to access for patients," Manning said.

"We saw it as an add-on to what we'd already built for what we'd already built as a business, as opposed to something that was fundamental to our success."

Medicinal cannabis company Cannasouth's chief executive, Mark Lucas, said it would largely be business as usual.

"Obviously a 'yes' vote would have had some impact on the industry, but when you're building any business you just really need certainty of the environment you're operating in. We've just got to get on and build the business."

The future was bright for both the industry and the consumers set to benefit from the products, he said.

"We're going to see, in the future, advance formulations of different cannabinoids targeting different specific conditions.

"They will be a normal tool that prescribers are used to in time. The stigma and dogma around cannabis will slowly subside as we develop higher grade products and deliver better therapeutic affects as more clinic data is produced.

"There's a little bit of patience required, but this is the long game."

NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller said the result would not stop the development of medicinal products in New Zealand, but the stigma around using the products might impact use and access.

"It'll impact patients' desire to use a good medicine. It definitely impact doctor's decisions on whether or not to prescribe it," Muller said.

"Those things will mean decent medicines - good, scientifically thought-through products - won't get to the people who need them."

Muller was optimistic about the future - he said New Zealand had an opportunity to create a whole new export industry with medicinal cannabis.

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