New Zealand health regulators last week began allowing the use of domestically produced medicinal cannabis products, ending patients’ reliance on imported medical marijuana products. The Ministry of Health allowed access to local medicines beginning on September 9, opening a new opportunity for New Zealand cannabis growers and manufacturers.
Under New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis legalization laws, any licensed general physician can prescribe cannabis medications to any patient to treat any health condition. But since 2017, only imported cannabis medicines have been approved for use by patients, notes Tim Aldridge, managing director of cannabis grower Puro New Zealand.
“Up until now, New Zealand patients could only be prescribed medicinal cannabis grown overseas, with the vast majority being imported from Australia and Canada,” Aldridge said in a statement.
Puro New Zealand grows organically produced cannabis at its outdoor facility on the nation’s South Island. Earlier this year, the company signed a multi-million dollar, five-year deal to provide cannabis to Helius Therapeutics, a firm that manufactures cannabinoid medications at its facility in East Auckland. Carmen Doran, chief executive of Helius, noted that a change in the law now allows New Zealand patients access to the company’s products.
“In 2018, Parliament’s legislative intent around improving access and affordability was clear,” said Doran. “The subsequent Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has also strived for both locally grown and made cannabis medicines. That national ambition to better serve long-suffering Kiwi patients is finally a reality and that’s exciting.”
“This is great news for many patients who have long sought legal access to both New Zealand-grown and made medicinal cannabis products,” Doran added.
Medications Approved for Local Market
On Tuesday, Helius was notified by the Ministry of Health that two of its medications had passed quality standards tests, a requirement that must be met before cannabis products can enter the local market under regulations adopted in 2019. New Zealand already has 35 cannabis companies across the country, with Helius Therapeutics being the largest in the nation.
Helius was New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis business to achieve a GMP Licence for Manufacturing Medicines in July 2021, bringing the first products to market three months later. The new products will first be launched in New Zealand before being rolled out internationally, with Europe and South America already identified as priority foreign markets for the company.
“Gaining approval of medicinal cannabis products that are truly New Zealand-grown and made is a significant milestone for our industry,” Doran said. “Local patients and their advocates have fought long and hard for truly Kiwi products which are both high quality and cost-effective.”
Aldridge said that his company has spent four years bringing its operations up to government standards.
“It hasn’t always been plain sailing,” Aldridge said. “Navigating this new industry, coming to grips with the regulatory regime, and growing a new crop at scale has been a massive undertaking.”
Although the work to develop a local cannabis production infrastructure has not been easy, he says that patients will soon reap the rewards. Locally produced cannabis medications are expected to cost patients half as much as imported medicines.
Doran of Helius said that a local source of CBD and other cannabis products will help ensure that patients in New Zealand have access to their medicines, noting that global logistical challenges over the past two years have affected imports of cannabis products from producers abroad.
“We have seen significant delays and disruptions in the availability of imported products as COVID continues to impact supply chains,” said Doran. “It is disconcerting for patients and prescribers when products that are making a difference in people’s lives are not available. Fully New Zealand-grown and made products will help alleviate such issues.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.