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4/20 stories, pt. 2

NZ: "There will be an increased consumer appreciation for sustainable and organic cultivation"

We continue with our 4/20 special series with insights on the cannabis industry's developments and prospects. Today, we take a closer look at the New Zealand market, as we have insights from two local growers. The country's demand for medical cannabis is quickly increasing, but there are still some regulatory improvements to be made.

"A rising tide raises all ships"
"Our current New Zealand (and wider Asia-Pacific) marketplace is growing, with more clinics and patients benefiting from the use of medical cannabis and prescription numbers increasing each month," says Tom Forrest, Co-Founder of Puro. "Puro is making great progress. Locally we have trusted partners that will see our organic cannabis commodities supplied to New Zealand, Australia, and European distribution channels. We are extremely proud to have helped achieve the first NZ-grown, NZ-made cannabis oils available, using our cannabis biomass and manufactured via our partners at Helius. We have received fantastic feedback from the industry for this milestone."

Tom Forrest

Puro continues to build strong relationships with partners throughout the cannabis value chain, from processors, extractors, and manufacturing groups through to distributors, clinics, and doctors in New Zealand, Australia, and beyond. "We believe in collaboration within the industry and often say, 'a rising tide raises all ships'," Tom says. 

Their biggest challenges involve the regulatory burdens imposed. "For example, a predetermined moisture content percentage and the microbial limits. There are current restrictions that are too stringent for a functional and competitive local industry. We firmly believe in safety and efficacy standards to ensure consumer wellbeing, but we need to see our regulations aligned with worldwide standards," Tom says. "It is enthusing to see the work that the NZMCC (NZ Medical Cannabis Council) is undertaking to work with the regulatory authorities to progress the industry and evolve alongside medicinal and industry trends."

Tom believes that there are fantastic opportunities for novel products and delivery methods for Australian and New Zealand consumers. "This will include exploring unique chemovars and cannabinoid ratios that are desirable and have specialized efficacy. Our team is actively working to develop and commercially produce unique cultivars that are suited to our local environment and progressive consumer demand. We are working with medicinal specialists and distributors to help align their concepts into commercialized cannabis commodities."

"I also believe there will be an increased consumer appreciation for sustainable and organic cultivation methodologies," he says. "We've already seen the scientifically published information on cannabinoid and terpene production benefits from cultivating in harmony with the soil, and I see consumers starting to appreciate soil-grown commodities for the efficacy, flavor, and shelf-life benefits. We also believe that, similar to wine varietals and expression, consumers will begin to appreciate the 'terroir' of cannabis commodities. Perhaps we at Puro could help to develop the 'sauvignon blanc' of cannabis! (our home in Marlborough is famous for world-leading sauvignon blanc wines)."

"As we move into other industries such as cosmetics, nutraceutical, pet care, and other sectors, it is evident that consumers are appreciative of organic products, wanting transparency and an understanding of the cultivation method, sustainability, and overall supply chain. Our approach to organic, regenerative agriculture is the right thing to do, and we believe consumers will continue to grow their appreciation of our approach," Tom concludes.

Prescriptions almost doubled 
At Helius Therapeutics, they also notice a strong increase in demand. "In New Zealand, any doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis for any condition. We saw strong growth in the New Zealand market with around 36,000 prescriptions in 2021, almost doubling to around 60,000 prescriptions in 2022," says Carmen Doran, CEO of Helius. "This shows a strong change in both doctors' and patients'/consumers' preferences and understanding of medicinal cannabis. Of the prescriptions in 2022, almost half of them were Helius Therapeutics NZ-made products, so it's great to be supplying our patients with medicines they need."

Carmen Doran 

Helius is New Zealand's only fully EU-GMP and GACP-certified medicinal cannabis company, receiving their first GMP certificate in 2021 and adding to it over the last two years, with the flower being GMP certified in March 2023. "We have quickly become a leader in our domestic market and are excited now for export opportunities to bring NZ-grown, NZ-made medicines to patients around the world," Carmen says.

Helius has brought together a team of international experts in cannabis cultivation, extraction, and formulation, as well as pharmaceutical processes, overcoming challenges with the strict New Zealand regulations to supply patients. "We have focused on accessibility, awareness, and education in a market where we are prohibited from marketing our products. The strong growth rates both in the New Zealand market and in the Helius demand reflect the removal of stigma through awareness and education as well as the positive outcomes through word of mouth and sharing of experiences," Carmen says.

According to Carmen, early demand in New Zealand was for CBD products (which are also covered under the medicinal cannabis scheme). "We launched our first CBD products back in 2021 and launched NZ-grown, NZ-made Full Spectrum CBD products in 2022, which were highly anticipated. A rising demand for THC and balanced products, particularly with more specialized cannabis clinics coming to market in NZ, was seen in 2023, and at the end of 2022, Helius was the first local company to bring THC products, which are a controlled drug, to market."

Specialized cannabis clinics in New Zealand are reporting a rise in demand for medicinal cannabis flowers for patients transitioning from the illicit market to the medicinal market or needing a more rapid onset achieved via inhalation, Carmen explains. "Currently, all flower into the market is imported, and doctors report challenges with stock-outs resulting in difficulties controlling, dosing, and titrating patients on this dosage form. In March 2023, Helius achieved GMP Certification for Dried Flower, making it the only company in New Zealand to be fully GMP and GACP certified, and patients in New Zealand will have access to NZ-grown flowers this year. Our indoor, highly controlled grow facility is designed for consistent, high-quality outputs of dried flower, and we are ramping up for both domestic and international demand in this area."