New Zealand health officials last week began allowing domestic medical cannabis products to be used, ending patient dependence on imported medical marijuana products. The Department of Health will allow access to local medicines from September 9, opening up new opportunities for New Zealand cannabis growers and manufacturers.
Under New Zealand’s Medical Cannabis Legalization Act, licensed general practitioners can prescribe cannabis to any patient to treat any medical condition. But since 2017, only imported cannabis has been approved for use by patients, said Tim Aldridge, managing director of cannabis grower Puro New Zealand.
“Previously, New Zealand patients could only prescribe medicinal cannabis grown abroad, mostly imported from Australia and Canada.” Aldridge said in a statement.
Puro New Zealand grows organically produced cannabis in an outdoor facility on the country’s South Island. Earlier this year, the company signed his multi-million dollar five-year deal to supply cannabis to Helius Therapeutics, a company that manufactures cannabinoid drugs at its East Oakland facility. Helius chief executive Carmen Doran said the change in legislation has allowed patients in New Zealand to access the company’s products.
“In 2018, Congress’ legislative intent on improving access and affordability was clear.” Doran said“Subsequent medicinal cannabis schemes have also aimed at both locally grown and manufactured cannabis. It’s a reality, and that’s exciting.”
“This is great news for many patients who have long sought legal access to both New Zealand-grown medical cannabis products,” Doran added.
Medicines approved for the local market
On Tuesday, Helius was notified by the Ministry of Health of two medicines that have passed the quality standard tests that cannabis products must meet before entering local markets under regulations adopted in 2019. New Zealand already has 35 cannabis companies, and Helius Therapeutics is the largest in the country.
Helius was the first New Zealand medical cannabis company to obtain a GMP license for pharmaceutical manufacturing in July 2021, bringing its first product to market three months later. The new product will be launched first in New Zealand before being rolled out internationally, with Europe and South America already identified as the company’s preferred overseas markets.
“Getting approval for a truly New Zealand grown and manufactured medical cannabis product is an important milestone for our industry,” said Doran. “Local patients and their advocates have fought long and hard for a high-quality, cost-effective and genuine kiwi product.”
Aldridge said his company has spent four years bringing its operations up to government standards.
“It hasn’t always been smooth sailing,” said Aldridge. “Navigating this new industry, figuring out the regulatory regime, and growing new crops at scale has been a massive undertaking.”
The task of developing a local cannabis production infrastructure has not been easy, he says, but patients can quickly reap the rewards. It is expected to take
Helius’ Doran said local sources of CBD and other cannabis products will help ensure that New Zealand patients have access to the drug, citing global logistical problems of the past two years. He pointed out that it is affecting the import of cannabis products from overseas producers.
“As COVID continues to impact supply chains, we are seeing significant delays and disruptions in the availability of imported products,” Doran said. “The lack of availability of life-changing products is disconcerting to patients and prescribers. Products grown and manufactured entirely in New Zealand can help alleviate these problems.”