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Licences for medicinal cannabis cultivation are realistic and some of the lowest-priced in the world according to aspiring applicants and industry representatives attending Ministry of Health workshops.

About 60 people from the East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and Bay of Plenty attended a Ministry of Health workshop in Gisborne this week to understand the new medicinal cannabis scheme that comes into effect from April 1.

Ministry of Health Maori health directorate manager Eugene Rewi said the workshop was about explaining everything about the medicinal cannabis licensing scheme to whanau.

“I think the reaction from the participants was really positive.

“I guess for them they need to think about what part they may play in this scheme. Whether it’s cultivating, working for a manufacturer or doing research — they all have a different journey and a different need in the licensing scheme.

“For them it’s about finding where they sit in a legal sense for the end product.

“What we have heard from other hui we have had around New Zealand is that some see it as a part of rongoa (traditional Maori medicine).Some people who have attended have been rongoa practitioners.

“I think there will be a challenge for some and some might think they can’t do it on their own so might need to connect with whanau, hapu or iwi to see who can support them in terms of getting into this in any capacity. There is a cost around it to ensure it reaches the final client whoever it may be.”

Porou Tawhiwhirangi works with a partner under a hemp cultivation licence and is planning to apply for a medicinal cannabis licence next month.

“After attending the medicinal cannabis scheme workshop I was able to walk away from there with appreciation of the hard work from all involved in creating this scheme, licensing regulations and the information around it.

“As a small business starting in this industry the licensing fees look expensive but these costs have dropped dramatically since the proposed fees released last year.

“These costs will sort out the ones that really want to enter this industry and a good business plan with the desired outcomes will determine if it’s viable.

“Our small business E3C will look into the likely sales price of the product and how much we would need to cultivate in order to cover all costs involved including taxes. Making sure all avenues are covered will help any company be successful in this industry,” he said.

‘A lot of it is basic common sense’

Mr Tawhiwhirangi has worked with a group of young people near Ruatoria to teach them cannabis cultivation skills, but just as importantly, how to operate within a highly regulated environment for legal cultivation.

“The most crucial part of the licence application is having all the information available to ensure the application is complete and not returned by the officials assessing it.

“A lot of it is basic common sense.

“One of the most important considerations is the specifications and documenting processes of how it must be grown to meet GMP (good manufacturing practice) pharmaceutical standards. Following standardised processes around pest management, disease prevention and cultivation practices will ensure product isn’t rejected, wasting time and money.

Mr Tawhiwhirangi said new businesses like his had to get it right from the start to be able to survive in the industry.

“As someone who will be contracted to cultivate cannabis for E3C I welcome the opportunity to work to these high standards to continue my future learning and upskilling in this industry.

“Sharing this knowledge with others will help our whanau in this region who are looking to this industry for future employment and business opportunities.”

Manu Caddie, president of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council (NZMCC), said it was great to see the Ministry of Health had listened to the sector “when we said the licence fees were too high”

“They have to recover the costs of the new scheme from industry and they have been able to spread those costs across a larger number of expected licences” he said.

The council is an industry association of nearly 30 companies.

“Compared to other jurisdictions where it can cost at least $100,000 just to apply for a licence, New Zealand is very affordable.”

A basic cultivation licence will cost around $8000, regardless of how many plants are produced.

“This may seem like a lot compared to a hemp licence which is just over $500, but when you consider all the other costs — fencing or building, 24/7 security, testing of plant material, irrigation, fertiliser and labour — it is actually only a small fraction of the total budget,” Mr Caddie said.

Talmage Herbert, co-founder of a cannabis start-up company Herbert Farms, said he was really happy with how the workshop went.

“I feel like the Ministry of Health is doing a great job of engaging with people. We left that workshop feeling more confident in the opportunities that can arise from Maori engagement in the medicinal cannabis industry.

“I think based on the current framework, whanau can have the ability to cultivate medicinal cannabis for manufacturers.

“There are still barriers to being able to participate but those barriers exist for very valid reasons.

“In previous workshops, I had left the venue feeling that the substantial upfront costs required to meet certain quality standards were going to be incredibly prohibitive for people without millions in financial backing.

“After learning that manufacturers can set certain product standards, the question becomes can whanau or other Maori organisations cultivate cannabis to a high standard without having the most state of the art facility? To that I say yes, absolutely they can.”

Ministry of Health officials said they expected only a small number of medicine manufacturing licences to be granted but a large number of cultivators to become suppliers to manufacturing companies.

Under the new scheme, pharmaceutical cannabis products must meet minimum quality standards in the manufacturing process and this required specialist staff and facilities.

NZMCC has been providing feedback to the Ministry of Health on technical aspects of the regulations from an industry perspective and have provided support and advice among members to assist producers to get ready for the new scheme.

Here to answer: Eugene Rewi, Andrea Eng (MedSafe manager of regulatory practice) and Dr Roy Hoerara from the Ministry of Health shared information and answered questions at this week’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme Maori stakeholder workshop. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

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