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Bob McCoskrie

New poll suggests only 18% of Kiwis support recreational cannabis legalisation

TVNZ One News 23 April 2019
Family First Comment: “At a time when NZ mental health system is bursting at seams, don’t legitimise mind-altering product which will simply add social harm?”

A new poll commissioned by conservative Christian lobbyist group Family First has found that less than 20% of New Zealanders support legalisation of recreational marijuana, but there is strong support for its medicinal use.

The independent poll, carried out earlier this month by Curia Market Research, surveyed 1000 randomly selected people reflective of overall voters.

But the results contradict previous polls, conducted in New Zealand using similar sample sizes, which have found that Kiwis tend to be evenly divided on the issue. For instance, a 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll conducted in October suggested that 46% of Kiwis were in favour of legalisation of cannabis for personal use and 41% were against.

New Zealand is set to hold a referendum at the 2020 election on legalising marijuana.

In the latest poll, weakest support for legalising marijuana came from National voters (7%), NZ First voters (19%) and Labour voters (28%). Even among Green Party voters, the poll suggests, recreational legalisation only received 53% support.

The Family First poll also asked questions about the link between cannabis use and accidents, if the drug is likely to cause brain damage in users younger than 25 and if usage would decrease the chances of getting a job within the under 25 age range.

In a press release, Family First said 85% of respondents believed cannabis had the potential to damage the brains of young people under age 25, 81% agreed that drivers using cannabis were more likely to cause accidents and 63% believed people under the age of 25 who were regular users of cannabis were less likely to get a job.

In addition, 65% of people questioned in the poll believe restrictions for medical use should be lifted. Eighteen per cent wanted a lift for recreational use and 7% wanted current restrictions to remain as they are.

Family First National Director Bob McCoskrie said “ultimately, the medical profession should be dictating the direction of this debate, not politicians, an anecdotal-wielding lobby, and marijuana advocates with a hidden agenda”.

“At a time when New Zealand’s mental health system is bursting at the seams, should we go no further and legitimise a mind-altering product which will simply add to social harm?” he questioned.

He said Family First supports the rapid expansion of further quality research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms, and the establishment of a programme that allows seriously ill and terminal patients, including children, to obtain other non-smoked components of marijuana approved and listed by the Ministry of Health via their doctor – with appropriate funding and pricing for patients.
https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/new-poll-suggests-only-18-kiwis-support-recreational-cannabis-legalisation
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Marijuana users weigh less, despite the munchies – study

NewsHub 21 April 2019
Family First Comment: Maybe they just smoke weed instead of eating….
“No one should start smoking weed just to lose weight, she warned. There’s too many health concerns around cannabis that far outweigh the potential positive, yet modest, effects it has on weight gain.”

Despite their reputation for getting the ‘munchies’, people who regularly toke weigh less than others, a new study has found.

Researchers examined weight data belonging to more than 33,000 people over three years, and found not only did marijuana users gain less weight than others in that time, they weighed on average just under a kilogram less overall.

“We found that users, even those who just started, were more likely to be at a normal, healthier weight and stay at that weight,” said study leader Omayma Alshaarawy of Michigan State University.

“Only 15 percent of persistent users were considered obese compared to 20 percent of non-users.”

She said while the difference – about 900g – isn’t much, it showed up “in more than 30,000 people with all different kinds of behaviours”.

It’s not clear why, but weight paranoia is one explanation.

“It could be something that’s more behavioural, like someone becoming more conscious of their food intake as they worry about the munchies after cannabis use and gaining weight,” said Dr Alshaarawy.
READ MORE: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/lifestyle/2019/04/marijuana-users-weigh-less-despite-the-munchies-study.html

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Shock Cannabis Poll: Yes To Medicinal, No To Legalising

Media Release 23 April 2019
In a shock poll result, less than 20% (one in five) New Zealanders support legalisation of marijuana, but there is strong support for lifting restrictions for medical use (65%), according to an independent poll of 1,000 people by Curia Market Research. 7% support the law as it stands. There is also significant concerns about the mental health and societal costs of cannabis.

“This poll removes the smokescreen and confusion that drug advocates have created with the mixing of terms ‘medicinal’, ‘decriminalise’ and ‘legalise’. It is clear that Kiwis strongly support a compassionate response to those in real need with a cautious and researched approach around cannabis medicine, but when they thoughtfully consider the real implications of legalising recreational use, they completely reject the proposal – and rightly so,” says Mr McCoskrie.

Weakest support for legalising marijuana came from National voters (7%), NZ First voters (19%) and Labour voters (28%). Significantly, only 53% of Green voters supported legalisation.

The independent polling, commissioned by Family First NZ, also found:

  • 85% think that cannabis use can damage the brains of young people under the age of 25.
  • 81% think that drivers using cannabis are more likely to cause accidents.
  • 63% think that cannabis users aged under 25 are less likely to get a job (only 20% think it makes no difference)
  • 49% think that cannabis usage will increase if restrictions are reduced, 35% think usage would remain the same and 6% decrease.
  • 22% think that tobacco companies are pushing for restrictions on cannabis to be lifted, 42% are unsure, and 36% disagree.

“Evidence shows that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades – is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents. In US states that have already legalised the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashesyouth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh tax revenues from marijuana. These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, sustained marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana. Portugal has seen a rise in the prevalence of every illicit psychoactive substance (affected by the weight of cannabis use in those aged 15-74) in the last five years.”

“A sensible drug policy should recognise three pillars – similar to the successful approach towards SmokeFree NZ:

  • supply reduction – target the dealers and suppliers
  • demand reduction – promote a drug-free culture
  • harm reduction – ensure addiction services & support are available for those who genuinely want to quit. The primary purpose is not to keep users using, but reduce and help them exit drug use.

A smart arrest policy can both provide a societal stamp of disapproval and provide an opportunity to intervene and stop the progression of use. Keeping marijuana illegal through an appropriate application of the laws that cater for ‘youthful indiscretions’ and which focus on supply and dealers is as much a public safety policy as it is a public health policy,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“But at a time when New Zealand’s mental health system is bursting at the seams, we should go no further and legitimise a mind-altering product which will simply add to social harm?”

Family First supports the rapid expansion of further quality research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms, and the establishment of a programme that allows seriously ill and terminal patients (including children) to obtain other non-smoked components of marijuana approved and listed by the Ministry of Health via their doctor – with appropriate funding and pricing for patients. Neurologists, palliative care and pain specialists should have a key role in this process.

“Ultimately, the medical profession should be dictating the direction of this debate, not politicians, an anecdotal-wielding lobby, and marijuana advocates with a hidden agenda.”

The nationwide poll was carried out at the beginning of this month and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. READ THE FULL RESULTS

Paula Bennett: We need to know how legal drugs will be controlled

NZ Herald 17 April 2019
Family First Comment: Thoughtful column from National’s Paula Bennett
“The marijuana of tomorrow won’t look anything like the marijuana of today. It will be in liquid form, consumed via drinks and food, not smoked, and probably marketed to younger people. The evidence tells us marijuana can have significant effects on the growth and refinement of brain functions relating to emotion and memory development. There are also established links between usage and mental health concerns, such as depression, schizophrenia and psychosis.”

COMMENT:
Since taking on the role of the National Party spokeswoman for drug reform I have discovered from the sometimes very personal messages that everyone’s experience with drugs is different.

There are those who assure me they have smoked marijuana daily and have been successful and so far lived a good life. Others have told me of the devastating effects and their quest to rid themselves of the addiction. Some have been angry that I dared pose questions, others have been grateful that I do. Welcome to the world of an MP.

I have also noticed many people mixing up medicinal cannabis and the binding referendum the Prime Minister has called on legalising marijuana at the next election.

I support medicinal cannabis, as do most parliamentarians. But this referendum is quite different. We do not know what the question will be and what we will be signing ourselves up for.

We deserve to know what it will mean to say yes to the legalisation of recreational marijuana. How will a market for it operate? Will marijuana be commercially available? Who will be able to sell it? Will it be big corporations or local not for profits? What will the legal age be?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed. Time is ticking by. It took Canada and Columbia years to get legislation done. Will we see legislation before we vote in the referendum? Who is working on it and how will there be time for the public engage in the process?

The marijuana of today is not the same as the marijuana I tried in the 80s. It is far more potent with much higher THC levels.

The marijuana of tomorrow won’t look anything like the marijuana of today. It will be in liquid form, consumed via drinks and food, not smoked, and probably marketed to younger people.

The evidence tells us marijuana can have significant effects on the growth and refinement of brain functions relating to emotion and memory development. There are also established links between usage and mental health concerns, such as depression, schizophrenia and psychosis.

While I support a health-based approach to drug users, the Government’s latest Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill is effectively decriminalisation of all drugs. This is legislation currently being debated and the public aren’t aware of it.

A lot of people wrote to tell me alcohol is just as bad, if not worse, than marijuana. I think they might be right, so shouldn’t we learn something from that? We have reformed our liquor legislation numerous times and still people suffer from alcoholism, die on our roads and beat each other up when drunk, and we think legalising marijuana will fix drug harm.

Equally the status quo doesn’t seem right. I don’t think convicting someone for smoking a joint makes sense. I don’t particularly care if adults choose to recreationally use marijuana, they shouldn’t have to feel like criminals and worry they may be convicted.

If we collectively agree there are problems with drug harm, shouldn’t we debate solutions instead of leaping to legalisation? Will the drug addict get better because it’s legal to consume marijuana?

Even in countries and states that have either decriminalised or legalised marijuana there are huge differences in opinion. That doesn’t mean we ignore it, but it does mean we progress with caution.

I think this is a really important debate for us as a country to have, and it can’t be done by stealth through a single sentence in a bill aimed at addressing issues with synthetics. I don’t want us to look back and wonder what happened because we weren’t given the right information in time for us to have a mature debate on the pros and cons and know what we are saying yes or no to.

British citizens had no idea what saying yes to Brexit meant and look at how that debate is going. This is the Prime Minister’s referendum on legalising marijuana and both she and her Government have an obligation to let us know exactly what we are signing up for.

• Paula Bennett is National’s spokesperson on drug reform.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?objectid=12222771&ref=twitter

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Massive Increase in Workplace Marijuana Rates in “Legal” States – Study

Media Release: SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) 11 April 2019
Family First Comment: “Lawmakers in states considering legalisation must look at these numbers, consider the risk of future tragic circumstances in the workforce, and ask themselves if the juice is worth the squeeze. Do we really think our country will benefit from our workforce becoming increasingly more impaired? It is time to end this failed experiment of pot legalisation.”

Today, an analysis of 10 million drug samples by Quest Diagnostics found that states that have “legalized” the use of marijuana have seen massive increases in workforce positivity since legalization. Oregon has seen a 63% increase, Nevada has seen a 55% increase, and Colorado has seen a 47% increase. All states that have implemented legal sales far outstrip the national average of 2.3%. Overall workplace positivity rates rose 10% last year while positivity rates in safety-sensitive workers, such as airline pilots and nuclear power plant employees, increased 5%.

“While rates of drug positivity have mostly fallen over the last few decades, marijuana use has risen as legalization efforts have perpetuated the idea that pot use is safe, and state sanctioned,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “These numbers are even more disturbing when one takes into consideration the fact that many employers are beginning to forego drug testing of their employees as drug use becomes more widespread.”

Furthermore, Quest Diagnostics noted that 4.4% of the samples contained traces of both legal and illegal substances such as marijuana, prescription opioids and other drugs. This is the highest rate of drug positivity since 2004 and continues a six-year upward trajectory in marijuana positivity in the U.S. workforce.

“Our in-depth analysis shows that marijuana is not only present in our workforce, but use continues to increase,” said Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology for Quest Diagnostics in a press release. “As marijuana policy changes, and employers consider strategies to protect their employees, customers and general public, employers should weigh the risks that drug use, including marijuana, poses to their business.”

“Lawmakers in states considering legalization must look at these numbers, consider the risk of future tragic circumstances in the workforce, and ask themselves if the juice is worth the squeeze,” continued Dr. Sabet. “Do we really think our country will benefit from our workforce becoming increasingly more impaired? It is time to end this failed experiment of pot legalization.”
https://learnaboutsam.org/breaking-new-study-highlights-massive-increase-in-workplace-marijuana-positivity-rates-in-legal-states/

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Cabinet will write cannabis referendum question, Jacinda Ardern tells Parliament

TVNZ One News 3 April 2019
Family First Comment: “Paula Bennett asked if the Prime Minister thought a cross-party group of backbench MPs (such as Green MPs!!) should be in charge of choosing the question in the referendum. Ms Ardern said the question would instead be chosen by Cabinet.”
Good.

The question for the cannabis referendum will be decided by Cabinet, the Prime Minister said today.

However she could not give further details of the approximate time of when the next steps would be taken towards the upcoming cannabis referendum.

National’s Paula Bennett asked Jacinda Ardern in Question Time today how legalised marijuana for recreational use would be regulated. New Zealand is set to hold a referendum at the 2020 election on legalising marijuana.

“The Government is finalising decisions around how the question will be posed and what information will be provided in order to encourage debate,” Ms Ardern said.

She said she knew Ms Bennett “has a special interest in this area”, and she encouraged her to join Green’s Chlöe Swarbrick “and other members of the cross-party group to support the work that’s being done”.

“This is not a Government policy; it is a public referendum.”

Ms Bennett asked if the Prime Minister thought a cross-party group of backbench MPs should be in charge of choosing the question in the referendum.
READ MORE: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/cabinet-write-cannabis-referendum-question-jacinda-ardern-tells-parliament

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Marijuana Edibles May Pose Special Risks

The New York Times 25 March 2019
Family First Comment: “…Deaths in Colorado that have been definitively attributed to cannabis involved edibles, and those deaths were surprisingly violent. In all three incidents, including a murder and a suicide in 2014 and another suicide in 2015, the pot users exhibited extremely erratic behaviour after consuming edibles, according to news reports and trial testimony…”
#SayNopeToDope

Pot brownies and other cannabis “edibles” like gummy bears that are sold online and where marijuana is legal may seem like harmless fun, but new research indicates that edibles may be more potent and potentially more dangerous than pot that is smoked or vaped.

The new study analyzed thousands of cannabis-triggered emergency room visits in the greater Denver area, and found that edibles induced a disproportionate number of pot-related medical crises. Edibles were also more likely than inhaled pot to cause severe intoxication, acute psychiatric symptoms in people with no history of psychiatric illness and cardiovascular problems.

Pot smokers, on the other hand, were more likely to have gastrointestinal complaints, including a vomiting condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and they were more likely to be hospitalized if they needed emergency care.

Emergency room doctors in Colorado started noticing several years ago that “there were a lot of visits associated with edibles, even though they were not the predominant product used, and they seemed to be sicker compared to those who inhaled,” said Dr. Andrew Monte, an associate professor of medicine and the lead author of the new study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday.

He also noted that the only deaths in Colorado that have been definitively attributed to cannabis involved edibles, and those deaths were surprisingly violent. In all three incidents, including a murder and a suicide in 2014 and another suicide in 2015, the pot users exhibited extremely erratic behavior after consuming edibles, according to news reports and trial testimony.

Ingested pot takes longer to produce a high than smoked pot, making it harder to gauge the right dose to achieve the desired effect, which increases the risk of an overdose, experts say. Ingested pot also takes longer for the body to clear.
READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/well/eat/marijuana-edibles-may-pose-special-risks.html

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Shocking toll of young patients admitted to hospital with mental disorders

Daily Mail 25 March 2019
Family First Comment: “Cannabis is linked to severe mental illnesses including psychosis, where patients have hallucinations and delusionary thoughts, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety attacks… Dr Niall Campbell, a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital in London, which treats NHS patients, added: ‘We are seeing a whole new generation of teenagers, and those in their early 20s, being admitted as emergencies with paranoid psychoses linked to cannabis use.”

Children as young as nine are being admitted to hospital with severe disorders caused by cannabis, figures reveal.

More than 3,400 patients under the age of 19 were admitted last year because of mental and behavioural illnesses triggered by the drug.

Doctors are seeing a ‘whole new generation’ with serious problems, who are increasingly buying cannabis via social media websites.

READ MORE: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6845539/Shocking-toll-young-patients-admitted-hospital-mental-disorders-linked-cannabis.html
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Potent cannabis increases risk of serious mental illness, says study

BBC News 20 March 2019
Family First Comment:

  • people who used cannabis on a daily basis were three times more likely to have a diagnosis of first episode psychosis, compared with people who had never used cannabis
  • This increased to five times more likely for daily use of high potency cannabis
    #SayNopeToDope

Smoking potent ‘skunk-like’ cannabis increases your risk of serious mental illness, say researchers.

They estimate around one in 10 new cases of psychosis may be associated with strong cannabis, based on their study of European cities and towns.

In London and Amsterdam, where most of the cannabis that is sold is very strong, the risk could be much more, they say in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Daily use of any cannabis also makes psychosis more likely, they found.

Experts say people should be aware of the potential risks to health, even though the study is not definitive proof of harm.

Lead researcher and psychiatrist Dr Marta Di Forti said: “If you decide to use high potency cannabis bear in mind there is this potential risk.”

Dr Adrian James from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “This is a good quality study and the results need to be taken seriously.”

The findings
The researchers found:

  • Self-reported daily cannabis use was more common among patients with first episode psychosis, compared to controls – 29.5% (or 266 out of 901) of patients versus 6.8% (84/1,237) of controls
  • High-potency cannabis use was also more common among patients with first episode psychosis, compared to controls – 37.1% (334/901) versus 19.4% (240/1,237)
  • Across the 11 sites, people who used cannabis on a daily basis were three times more likely to have a diagnosis of first episode psychosis, compared with people who had never used cannabis
  • This increased to five times more likely for daily use of high potency cannabis
  • There was no evidence of an association between less than-weekly cannabis use and psychosis, regardless of potency

The authors estimate that one in five new cases (20.4%) of psychosis across the 11 sites may be linked to daily cannabis use, and one in ten (12.2%) linked to use of high potency cannabis.

In London, a fifth (21%) of new cases of psychosis might be linked to daily cannabis use, and nearly a third (30%) to high potency cannabis.

Removing strong cannabis from the market would lower London’s psychosis incidence rate from 45.7 to 31.9 cases per 100,000 people per year, the scientists estimate.

For the South London region they looked at, that would mean 60 fewer cases of psychosis each year.

In London, a fifth (21%) of new cases of psychosis might be linked to daily cannabis use, and nearly a third (30%) to high potency cannabis.

Removing strong cannabis from the market would lower London’s psychosis incidence rate from 45.7 to 31.9 cases per 100,000 people per year, the scientists estimate.

For the South London region they looked at, that would mean 60 fewer cases of psychosis each year.
READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47609849
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Medical marijuana: The people trying to cash in on the legalised cannabis ‘green rush’

NZ Herald 16 March 2019 
TVNZ’s Sunday programme last year aired a story about two of the as-yet non-existent medical cannabis industry’s leading players. Ruatoria-based Hikurangi Cannabis was represented primarily by one of its growers, a guy with a missing tooth, in hi-vis vest and gumboots, who had been in and out of prison for years and who had self-proclaimed high proficiency in cultivating the stickiest of sticky buds.

Auckland-based Helius was represented mostly by its executive director and public face, the telegenic, lightly bearded, ruffle-haired Paul Manning, who had just left a $500,000 a year job running a big-city advertising agency.

The Hikurangi grower danced in a field of cannabis plants, waving up at the drone filming him and smiling happily because Hikurangi – which will operate as a collective, with growers as part of a co-op – is giving him a chance to make a living from his skills.

Manning walked around an empty warehouse, where his company planned to grow its high-tech weed using a high-tech process that will make traditional growers largely redundant. The place was so enormous TVNZ flew a drone around in there, too.

One way of looking at this episode is as a battle for the soul of big marijuana: the social do gooders vs the rich pricks. Another way of looking at it is not like that at all.

Recently, I met Manning in a different building. He didn’t mention what had happened to the one they showed on TV but the new one is similarly massive and very flashy, situated behind a highly secure perimeter at the end of a cobbled street in East Tamaki. Pharmaceutical giant GMP has leased it to Helius for 20 years at a cost of $1.3 million a year. Manning says it comes with radar on the roof to prevent would-be weed burglars bursting through the awesome skylight above reception.

He co-founded Helius with two friends: Gavin Pook, who used to run Red Bull New Zealand, and J.P. Schmidt, who made his money in private equity and property. All are in their late 30s or early 40s. Their main investor is Guy Haddleton, who gave them $15m, a fairly trivial amount compared to the $380 million he’s worth according to the 2018 NBR rich list.

Their plan is to fill this warehouse with dozens of self-contained, computer-operated, automated, regulated grow rooms, full of hopefully danky and potentially stanky buds, produced in accordance with internationally recognised good manufacturing practice (GMP) guidelines. The fit-out alone, Manning says, will cost around $10 million and the grow room will be filled with an estimated 100,000 plants at any one time.

This will be laboratory cannabis, in which variables like nutrient load will be able to be adjusted remotely, grown under lights the spectrum of which can be altered, in rooms that are atmospherically controlled.

On the day I visited, the 5500sq m warehouse contained just one such room, as yet devoid of cannabis. The only other things in the warehouse were pallets and pallets of booze, including dozens of boxes of Baileys Irish Cream, the remnants of their sub-let to neighbours Lion, which has helped Helius pay its enormous rent while it hasn’t been making any money.

One way of looking at this is as metaphor: the handing over of the baton from one mind-altering, pleasure-delivery drug manufacturer giving way to another. Another way of looking at it is not like that at all.

“Weed”, “wacky backy”, “maryjane”, “dak”, “bud”, “grass”, “herb”, “skunk”, “nugs”, “dat chronic”, “that sweet, sweet stanky danky”, “having a sesh”, “hitting that blunt”, “rolling a doob”: None of these terms I found on the internet were used by any of the interviewees in this story, which was disappointing because they’re great for search engine optimisation.

Given half the chance, all the interviewees would almost certainly use Microsoft Word’s “track changes” tool to strike out the previous paragraph in the brightest available shade of red. Several would probably use the “Add comments” tool to write “Delete.”

It’s hard to tell who, if any, of the major players has smoked a lot of marijuana. The closest any of them got to a discussion of recreational use was Mark Dye, former talkback and reality TVshow host, who now runs Nubu Pharmaceuticals, who said: “I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times,” which, in its vague non-avoidance, seemed telling.

With the prospect of a binding referendum on recreational cannabis at the 2020 election, lovers of good ganja stand at the dawn of a golden age, which is also a twilight zone because all the people trying to facilitate it are talking not about getting the nation baked, but about research studies, double blind randomised trials, logistics, delivery mechanisms and, more specifically, the reduction of suffering.

The new wave of New Zealand marijuana will come from pristine manufacturing facilities in suburbs like East Tamaki, rather than the back bedrooms of tinny houses in suburbs like Meadowbank, and it will be for making people feel better, not weirder.

None of the main players are much interested in talking recreational cannabis because the legal and moral climate is just too tricky to go messing with that right now. Ideally, they would like to take the entire topic and put it through a supercritical CO2 extractor, leaving only a fact-rich paste, which would no doubt be useful for informational purposes, but not much fun to talk about.

Legislation was passed in December last year allowing the growing of cannabis in New Zealand for research purposes. By the end of this year, there should be regulations in place around how and where it can be sold. Then the rush will be on to sell it.

Tens of millions of dollars has already been poured into the industry, which is astonishing because most new businesses fail even when they start in fully legal, already-established industries. Nobody really knows what the failure rate might be for businesses starting up in an industry that doesn’t yet exist, is only quasi-legal, has none of its own products to sell, no idea of the rules under which they might be able to sell them and a year or so left before it will even know what they are.

A possible reason for the interest: more than one company mentioned the figure $1 billion in relation to the New Zealand medicinal cannabis market.

Hikurangi Cannabis founders Manu Caddie and Panapa Ehau launched their company following a 2016 meeting with three other East Coast locals: a sickness beneficiary, an unemployed grandmother and a local farmer. Their meeting was not about how to launch a medical cannabis business but how to save their community.

Hikurangi began in Ruatoria in January 2016. Ehau and Caddie, who had recently moved back to the town of 750, didn’t have any experience starting businesses, nor did they particularly want to be in charge of the one they were starting.

They expected to step away from it and be replaced by more experienced businesspeople after their incredible first crowdfunding effort, which raised $2.4m in six minutes and which crashed their crowdfunding platform twice and, in its success, provoked at least one other company to think entering the industry might be a good idea.

They settled on cannabis as a business partly because so many people in the region were already making their living from it. Their plan for the next 18 months is to build a cannabis processing facility in Ruatoria and a manufacturing facility in Gisborne, which they anticipate will create around 60 new jobs.

Caddie told the Herald’s Michael Nielson in January: “Internationally we are seeing investment bankers and people already with a lot of money getting into the industry early on and dominating it, so we are keen to offer an alternative for consumers and producers.”

He told me that social enterprise is at the heart of who Hikurangi is, but also said: “We’ve got five PhDs working for us now, I think it is, and $10 million in the bank and some world class science and technology, and some great branding and marketing people coming on board that have been leaders in Australasia.”

Helius’ Manning told me about a documentary he featured in last year called In Pot Pursuit, alongside Sam and Brenda Bartels, who were struggling to get access to medicinal cannabis products for their 4-year-old daughter Anya, who had a rare terminal disease causing seizures, among many other conditions requiring a cupboard-load of medications. Just before the documentary went to air, Anya died.

“That was a moment,” Manning says, “Not the only one, but f*** it actually still messes with me now. Shit, it kicks you in the guts. And you start to understand the responsibility beyond just making a company trying to flog some products.”

He went on “I’ve got a list as long as my arm of patients we’ve worked with and spent time with and the more you do it the more you look back and you go, ‘F***, I spent all this career in advertising making ads to get people to buy KFC and cars and shop at Briscoes and whatever.’ By comparison, it’s not as meaningful.”

Partly because they they were among the first to be granted licences to grow medical cannabis in New Zealand and partly because of the people behind them, Helius and Hikurangi have so far dominated the medical cannabis headlines, but they’re not the only serious players.

I recently visited the laboratory of Hamilton-based Cannasouth, another early licensee. Across the interviews I conducted with five of the leading companies in the sector, the word “science” was used 34 times. Nineteen of those uses, 55 per cent, came during the interview with Cannasouth’s founders.

In their lab, which you can enter only after putting on a white coat, hairnet and safety glasses and after receiving a serious and extensive safety briefing, a scientist was doing something with some machinery. I asked company co-founder Mark Lucas what it was.

He said: “This is a very baby, what you might call super-critical CO2 extraction, so you put some dried cannabis material into these chambers here and then you basically pump CO2 through it…” He went on for a lot longer – but you get the gist.

Co-founder Nic Foreman said: “We’re really focusing in on the high-end science of extraction, fractionation and purification of cannabidiol, terpenoids and terpenes and flavonoids.”

I didn’t want to tell him what an extraordinarily low chance there was of a quote like that making a story like this.

Lucas said: “When you actually start to look at the science behind it, you’ll be quite blown away. The comment I always make is, ‘It’s a lot more complex than you think.’ It’s not just people sitting around smoking a joint to feel better.”

Although the Ministry of Health hasn’t confirmed how many applications they’ve received to cultivate medicinal cannabis, more than one person involved in the industry said they believed the number to be around 30.

Of those, one of the leading contenders is Nubu Pharmaceuticals. It’s been fairly well-reported that the company’s CEO Mark Dye, who is also co-host of New Zealand television’s worst reality show Heartbreak Island and former co-host of Newstalk ZB’s afternoon talkback show with Kerre McIvor, decided to start the company after an afternoon discussing medical marijuana on air on ZB when, he says, almost every caller supported its legalisation.

He was surprised by that in 2016, but now, nearly three years later, everyone knows the public battle for legalised medical marijuana has already been won. Who among us has not now heard at least one harrowing story about a child or terminally ill person, or both, whose lives have been radically improved as a result of access to cannabis?

In mid-2017, a Curia poll found 81 per cent of New Zealanders supported decriminalising marijuana for medicinal use and in mid-2018 a New Zealand Drug Foundation poll found 87 per cent supported its decriminalisation for pain relief.

Dye, 32, is no longer primarily a media pretty boy but the head of a company that’s already raised $500,000 in capital and is in the process of raising $10 million more.

Another big player, not least because it will supply its own power from its own hydro power scheme in Taranaki, is Greenfern Medical Marijuana. It has just finished its own crowdfunding drive, pulling in $1.8 million.

One of the founders, Tim Johnson, who left his high-paying job at Carter Holt Harvey in 2010 to start buying and fixing up old hydro power schemes, says: “The cannabis industry is out of this world. I don’t think it’s like anything I’ve ever seen. Just the amount of change – in six months’ time, the landscape has changed completely.”

Now in his late 30s, Johnson has teamed up with several old friends from high school, all of whom have successful business careers, all of whom are still working in them, to start Greenfern.

His co-founder, John Hussey, says: “There’s a massive green rush coming.”

Manu Caddie and Hikurangi Cannabis co-founder Panapa Ehau hope the business will help repopulate and regenerate the East Coast, which has emptied of much of its Maori population over the past 50 years. In the process, they hope to save the language, the taonga and the cultural assets that are in danger of disappearing.

Caddie says, “It feels sometimes like a last-ditch effort, or maybe it’s just the next step in efforts to revive and regenerate not only the economy and the communities but the culture in the process.”

He says: “The New York Times came a couple of months ago and met at Ngata College and those kids had done a project on the company and the industry and that was just really powerful. These are … Sorry, I’m getting a little bit teary.”

The students, he says, come largely from beneficiary households or low-wage work like driving logging trucks or farming: “To see them being interested in cannabis, which a lot of them already are, but that there is a real legitimate employment pathway there and that is no longer just a dream but it’s becoming a reality, where we’re building facilities in their community that they’ll be able to visit and get jobs. And that was massive. And that’s the dream, I suppose.”

The company and the attention it has received both here and around the world, is already making an impact. The hemp cultivation course it runs with Eastern Institute of Technology this year attracted between 500 and 600 applicants.

Ehau says: “From a whakapapa perspective, our family will be here forever. Whether it’s for Hikurangi or whatever it is, it’s all about leaving it in a better state than when it was given to us.”

Manning hates that he sometimes feels he has to almost apologise for being entrepreneurial: “It’s almost like it’s not okay to be commercial, you should just be a community sort of organisation or a science organisation and we think the answer is you’ve got to be both. I think to succeed you can’t be one or the other.

“If we were completely commercial and corporate and didn’t have our finger on the pulse of what patients need and what society needs and didn’t have a proper higher-order purpose, quality of life, driving the business, 100 per cent we would fail. I promise you we would fail. Likewise, if you were just on the science or community side and you didn’t have strong commercial acumen you’d also fail, because they’re expensive to run and complex. So we don’t want to apologise for bringing commercial acumen into the industry.”

The dawn of a probable billion-dollar industry is a comparatively rare thing. Still rarer: the dawn of a billion-dollar industry so laced with moral and legal issues.

Into this quagmire: a bunch of companies clamouring to make a bunch of money or to ease people’s suffering, or to use science to help make the world a better place, or maybe all of those things, depending how you look at it.

Cannasouth’s Lucas tells the story of a video he watched about a child in the United States who was going through chemotherapy, wasting away, when a friend suggested giving the child a high dose of THC.

“It was high THC, enough to really knock your socks off. This child went from just wasting away to basically, once they gave them this capsule, the child was up playing with their toys and wanting to eat and communicate instead of just lying in their bed vomiting.

“So,” Lucas asks, “Why is this wrong? Why?”

It was his connection with that story on an emotional level, Lucas says, more than anything else, that pushed him to commit to starting Cannasouth.

“It’s realising that this is actually real. It’s not a Trojan horse, it’s not just some pseudoscience that really its whole intention is trying to get marijuana legalised for recreational purposes. So for me personally that was when I emotionally decided, ‘Hey, this is real’ and, as Richard Branson says, ‘Screw it, let’s do it.'”
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=12199240

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