Te Hiku cannabis start-up’s push to legalise cannabis by end of 2024 – NZ Herald

A Far North start-up is hoping to reinvigorate the conversation around cannabis laws, with the goal of introducing incremental policy change followed by full legalisation of recreational use by late next year.

Ahipara-based Te Hiku Cannabis is a cultivation company working with local mana whenua and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) academics to change the country’s cannabis regulations.

Founders Trish Fabling and Rueben Taipari (Ngāpuhi) started the company in 2021 after the 2020 referendum on cannabis showed almost half (48.4 per cent) of New Zealand voters were in support of legalising the plant.

Taipari is a well-known Ahipara organic gardener, Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) practitioner and sometimes controversial Te Tai Tokerau figure.

He said he’d witnessed the benefits of medicinal cannabis and believed more needed to be done to allow equitable access to the product.

“Legalising or decriminalising cannabis is the only way to break down the current barriers to prescriptions and high-cost, approved market products,” Taipari said.

“My mother has been using organic cannabis oil for pain relief for a life-threatening illness and the treatment has made a huge difference.

“I’ve also got friends with epileptic and heart problems who, after years of controlled use, have stabilised their conditions and are able to operate at a normal level of health.”

According to the NZ Drug Foundation, cannabis is New Zealand’s most commonly used illicit drug, produced in a dried plant, resin or oil form.

"Currently only a small number of growers and even fewer manufacturers in NZ are surviving and even the large, high-tech companies struggle to pass the GMP standards," said Fabling. Photo / Bevan Conley
“Currently only a small number of growers and even fewer manufacturers in NZ are surviving and even the large, high-tech companies struggle to pass the GMP standards,” said Fabling. Photo / Bevan Conley

The two main ingredients are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with the psychoactive potency of cannabis depending on the THC concentration.

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, but “was proven to have therapeutic benefits for many conditions ranging from inflammation to anxiety and insomnia”, Fabling claimed.

In 2018 medicinal cannabis was made legal for people with terminal conditions and in 2020, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme (MCS) was introduced, allowing GPs to prescribe it.

While the MCS was seen as a beacon of hope, a major barrier for New Zealand cannabis companies had been achieving Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification.

“Only a small number of growers and even fewer manufacturers in New Zealand are surviving,” Fabling said.

“Even the large, high-tech companies struggle to pass the GMP standards.

“While there is still a place for European pharma-grade medications, there is also a place for other options.”

Possession of any amount of recreational cannabis is illegal in New Zealand, with cannabis use controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

The Drug Foundation’s State of the Nation 2022 report found 94 per cent of the 266,700 people using cannabis for medicinal purposes were accessing the drug through the black market.

The report also highlighted how Māori continue to be hugely over-represented in drug possession statistics.

“Instead of deterring our youth away from consumption of toxic narcotics, it has pushed them towards stronger drug use that comes with real health issues and serious addictions,” Taipari said.

“I want us to be free to use cannabis in our homes without any further criminal stigmatisation and for everyone to be able to access a wide range of locally produced, affordable medication.”

AUT School of Science deputy head and pharmaceutical scientist, Associate Professor Ali Seyfoddin has been studying cannabis for almost three years.

He is also working with Te Hiku Cannabis to push for legislative change and claimed the world was in a period of “rediscovering cannabis” which, before 1882, was used to treat a variety of health issues.

“When I first started doing my research, there were hardly any clinical papers or trials about the therapeutic potential of cannabis anywhere in the world,” Seyfoddin said.

“Today there are now more than 400 clinical trials worldwide.

“There are many potential benefits, from prevention of addiction to other substances to environmental, with hemp farming now used in other countries to remove heavy metals from the soil.”

Seyfoddin said, in his opinion, the 2020 referendum had been too rushed, with not enough education about the issue.

He believed the legalisation debate had come down to a clash of beliefs/values versus science and with more time and information, people would eventually come around.

This week Te Hiku Cannabis kick-started its campaign, launching its nationwide, online poll to gauge support for or against cannabis decriminalisation.

Results will be presented at this year’s Waitangi Day (February 6) at Waitangi.

Fabling said the group would then campaign to move CBD-only cultivation and product manufacturing out of the Medicinal Cannabis Regulations and into the Industrial Hemp and Dietary Supplements Regulations respectively.

“When a prescription is no longer required, the cultivation and production of CBD-only plants and products will no longer be governed by the medicinal pharmaceutical standards,” Fabling said.

“If hemp growers are allowed to extract CBD from their flowers and manufacturers can produce CBD-only products, they only have to adhere to standards of other natural herbal products.

“That would mean the industry would start to open up.”

At the 69th Medicines Classification Committee meeting in October, New Zealand cannabis companies, including RuaBio and Zeacann, made submissions recommending the removal of prescriptions for CBD-only products.

The decision to change the classification was knocked back, however, with Medsafe stating there was “too much uncertainty to recommend allowing over-the-counter sales of low-dose CBD in New Zealand.”

The Northland Age has since sighted an email from the Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA), posing a number of questions to industry professionals on the current regulations and how they could be improved.

“In my opinion, this indicates they will be making revisions in 2023, so I think we are going to see changes,” Fabling said.

“From decades of research and learnings from other countries, we now have a great opportunity to revise the previous version of the regulations to be more in line with current global standards.”

A Ministry of Health spokesperson saidthe Government doesn’t have any plans to change the legislation.

The Te Hiku Cannabis poll is now live.