22 Jul 2019

Potential cannabis growers probe industry opportunities

8:09 pm on 22 July 2019

Potential players in the budding medicinal cannabis industry have spent the day grilling officials about what a homegrown industry might look like.

Marijuana buds ( cannabis), hemp plant. Washington State. Legal Medical marijuana law in US.

The proposal would make medicinal cannabis products available only through prescriptions, so ensuring quality product would be important. Photo: 123rf.com

Expectations are high with potential growers, importers, and manufacturers poised to take advantage of New Zealand's newest industry.

The Ministry of Health is considering giving patients better access to medicinal cannabis products and allowing people to grow and manufacture them.

As part of its public consultation, it's holding public sessions across the main centres with the first held in Auckland today.

At the first, targeting industry involvement, more than 100 people gathered to find out more about what regulations they'll be up against.

Among them was Dargaville local Kelly Retimana.

"At the moment I'm doing the investigation into what's actually required to get a license, what it means once we've got a license, the costs of manufacturing, how to get involved in the industry while it's still in the boom time."

He was one of many who asked officials about various elements of the scheme - how licensing will work, who will be able to prescribe products, and rules around importing and exporting.

"A question I did ask which I didn't quite get clarified is how many licenses there are. It looks like there are multiple licenses. If they're being issued at I think it's at $900, and you've got two or three that's fine. but if you've got three or four that are costing $13,000 to manufacture it starts to add up for a small player pretty quickly.

With more than 100 in the room Chris Fowlie, CEO of producer and developer Zeacann, said he'd expect that to drop.

"I'm really surprised, there's a huge amount of people here. The Ministry's forecast for their fees are based on only 16 licenses and so therefore they're really expensive for each one because their fixed costs are only divided by that many. I think they've got that completely wrong and they're going to have a lot more so I think they should expect they're going to get a lot and those fees are going to come down."

The proposal would make medicinal cannabis products available only through prescriptions, so Mr Fowlie said ensuring quality product would be important.

"It's really important that there are products available that doctors have confidence in prescribing because they are essentially the bottleneck or the throttle and the size of the market and therefore the viability of any of these businesses that are wanting to help patients here and overseas that will be determined by the doctors.

Industry membership group the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council has eight licensed members but having seen the turnout today it expects many more.

"An indication of today's turnout, much much bigger than we had thought. I'm really thrilled to see so much interest in the industry, but it's got challenging barriers to access," spokesperson Sally King said.

The greatest challenge, she said, would be the ability to ensure doctors and specialists understood medicinal cannabis products for prescribing.

As well as servicing the market, most were also looking at offshore.

"Exporting out to America, Australia, potentially Canada. Wherever medicinal cannabis is legal, almost all of Europe. New Zealand has remarkable conditions as an exporter. We lead the world in agri-science in many parts, in agri-business.

"We have a wonderful environment in which to grow, and we also have a world class regulator. So all of those things create quite fantastic economic opportunity, export conditions for us and we want to make the most of them."

Medsafe group manager for the Ministry of Health Chris James, said the sessions were an opportunity to help people understand the Government's plans.

"I wouldn't want to speak for industry, but I imagine what we see from these sessions is they're wanting to hear what does this mean, what does this mean for markets, what does this mean for a developing industry for New Zealand.

"They want some predictability because they're starting up businesses, they're wanting to know what sort of capitol cost they might be looking at, how many patients might be accessing..."

Particular focus sessions were also held for the Māori industry, as well as consumers.

"We're having sessions with healthcare professionals as well because they have similar but different views about access to products and what sort of quality requirements they want around them when they're deciding what might be best for their patient, with their patient."

Public information sessions move to Christchurch and Wellington next week ahead of public submissions closing on August.

The medicinal cannabis scheme is independent of the recreational use of cannabis which will be put to a referendum at next year's election.

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