'Massive potential' for medicinal cannabis industry in NZ, if MPs 'get their act together' - Chlöe Swarbrick

New Zealand's rulemakers need to "get their act together" on medicinal cannabis, as business and education providers prepare for potentially a "massive economic opportunity", says Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick. 

Ms Swarbrick visited the small town of Ruatoria, near Gisborne last week, after Hikurangi Cannabis Enterprises was the first business granted a licence for cultivating medicinal cannabis.

The company expects to create 120 jobs in the small East Coast town as it sets up a 10,000sqm greenhouse facility.

It works with Ruatoria's Eastern Institute of Technology branch, which runs a course focused on industrial hemp.

Medicinal cannabis seedlings.
Source: Supplied

Ms Swarbrick said it was hoped that as soon as there was established regulation around medicinal cannabis there would be a work force ready in the area.

The Ruatoria company has just become the first business in New Zealand granted a licence to cultivate the plants. Source: Breakfast

"They are learning about the regulatory schemes and licencing scheme and how you go about growing the best product.

"I really had to drive it home to them that they were the only people in the country right now who are doing this, that was absolutely mind-boggling.... that they were on the precipice of informing how the rest of the country would go about capitalising on what could be a massive economic boom for New Zealand if we get the regulations right."

MPs needed to get their act together to ensure the best environment is established, and to keep up with public sentiment, Ms Swarbrick told 1 NEWS.

"What we're looking at now is a massive economic opportunity. The people know change is coming."

She said this could be the "starting point of what could be some really incredible economic opportunities, particularly in the regions".

"In places like Ruatoria, where they have this incredible leading model regarding education, and enterprises such as Hikorangi that are set up to feed back into the community... there's just massive potential."

On the Bill that is going through Parliament, Ms Swarbrick said: "We have the opportunity to create something that is evidenced based, world leading and that can ensure we get the best outcome in terms of harm reduction, patients having access to affordable products and also ensure there is job creation here.

She said it was important the Ministry of Health took into account the best international practice, "but placing it in a very New Zealand context".

"This is all part of flipping drug harm on its head and going, if we bring this issue out of the shadows and into the light, and there is a way to regulate this such that we're not only reducing harm but we're getting the best outcomes for communities across this country."

Background:

Ms Swarbrick's own medicinal cannabis member's bill was voted down on January 31. It went further than the Government's bill and would have allowed patients who are dying and those with chronic pain to grow their own cannabis.

The Government's bill, that is currently before Parliament, would mean terminally ill people could take cannabis medicinally if they have less than 12 months to live and the approval of a doctor.

The Acting Prime Minister said appropriate changes can still be made to the Government’s medicinal cannabis bill. Source: Q+A

Health Minister David Clark said last year the bill "does not make it legal for the terminally ill to use cannabis, but it means that they will not be criminalised for doing so."

Cannabidiol, a pharmaceutical grade medicinal cannabis product, would also no longer be classified as a controlled drug.

Click here to read the Government's amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said the current bill "utterly fails" at creating the right regulatory and legislative controls.

It comes as National pulls its support for the Government’s own medicinal cannabis bill. Source: 1 NEWS

"It includes only minor improvements to how cannabidiol products are treated, which the previous National Government had already facilitated," he said in a statement.

National MP Shane Reti put forward his own members bill, which Mr Bridges called "a blend of international best practice, tailored to New Zealand". 

Winston Peters told National it could still make a "constructive contribution" as the Government's medicinal cannabis bill passes different stages.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick at Gisborne's Sustainable Horticulture course.
Green MP Chloe Swarbrick with students from Ruatoria's Sustainable Horticulture course Source: Supplied