6 Sep 2023

Medicinal cannabis industry growing as regulation overhaul given green light

7:04 am on 6 September 2023
Medical marijuana buds spilling out of prescription bottle with branded lid onto blank medical prescription pad on green background

Photo: 123 RF

Medicinal cannabis producers are looking at growing more plants and exploring different product options as regulations are being relaxed.

The government has approved changes to New Zealand's medicinal cannabis scheme, expected to make it cheaper for patients getting a prescription.

Currently, the average cost for patients' prescriptions from a pharmacy is several hundred dollars for up to a couple of months' supply.

Cabinet released the changes in July and Medsafe, which regulated medicines and medical devices, said broadening the medicinal cannabis categories meant a wider range of plants could be grown locally, and more cannabis products exported.

Acting group manager Derek Fitzgerald said changing the quality labelling requirements for exports of medicinal cannabis meant New Zealand companies could access markets more readily.

He said because New Zealand had a small population, our medicinal cannabis market was also small.

"We recognise that access to export markets is necessary to help ensure our local industry can continue to be commercially viable.

"The changes are designed to streamline and update the scheme's compliance requirements without compromising the overall quality of cannabis-based ingredients and medicinal cannabis products supplied to New Zealand patients. This will help ensure a sustainable medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand."

He said these changes would support the medicinal cannabis industry, which was important for ensuring that medicinal cannabis products which meet the minimum quality standards could continue to be supplied to local patients.

Helius Therapeutics had a medicinal cannabis growing facility in Auckland. Spokesman Bruce Wallace said having fewer restrictions to send their products to offshore markets was a relief, as until now it had been a struggle as the local market was not big enough to be financially sustainable.

Wallace believed the pending improvements to the scheme would lead to more plants being grown and new companies getting licences to produce or develop products.

The Helius Cannabis factory in Auckland

The Helius Cannabis factory in Auckland Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

He said having easier access to international markets would mean the price patients pay for a cannabis product should drop, as it was expensive to produce and until now only being allowed to sell solely on the local market meant charging higher prices.

'We would expect it to drop over time. A stronger industry means more competition, more players and a wider variety of products. We would also encourage patients to shop around, as some pharmacies charge more than others for medicinal cannabis products."

Wallace said the majority of products sold here were oral liquids, or whole flowers that patients vaporised using an approved medical device.

Cannabis products were predominately prescribed for anxiety, pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

He said Helius Therapeutics' large facility in Auckland had room to grow and expand.

"Currently the challenge is to make sure we get the exports away that will fund and drive that growth."

Wallace said their products would also be sold to researchers, who could start doing local trials with cannabis under the scheme's changes.

Medsafe said the changes to the medicinal cannabis scheme would come into effect by the end of this year.

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