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As of December 2018, medicinal cannabis has become legal in New Zealand. So what could a medicinal cannabis industry mean for NZ? Tim Johnson, Director of the Kiwi company Greenfern Medicinal Marijuana Ltd, explains how the new medicinal cannabis Bill will affect New Zealanders and explores what this new industry could look like.

On December 11th 2018, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed its third reading in parliament and with it, New Zealand became the latest country to legalise medicinal cannabis. The Bill, supported by Labour, the Greens and NZ First, now makes it legal for those who are in palliative care and the terminally ill with less than 12 months to live to use medicinal cannabis.

This marks a big shift for Aotearoa, where previously it was illegal for those suffering from terminal illnesses to use medicinal cannabis to treat their pain. Health Minister, David Clark has called this “the most progressive legislation on medicinal cannabis” and many Kiwis are seeing it as a positive step forward when it comes to alternative health and medication.

What does the Bill actually mean?
So what does cannabis reform mean for New Zealanders? For the 235,000 of Kiwis currently using medicinal cannabis, this is huge. It means they will be able to use medicinal cannabis to treat their pain, without the fear of being prosecuted.

Many New Zealanders are already looking for alternative and holistic ways to treat pain and the passing of the Bill paves the way for these medications to be more widely available.

In short, the Bill:
  • Provides a defence for terminally ill people to possess and use medicinal cannabis
  • Sets up a regulatory scheme for the manufacture, import and supply under a licence
  • No longer classes cannabidiol (known as CBD) and CBD products as controlled drugs

Medicinal vs recreational: what’s the difference?
For a lot of New Zealanders, the details of the Bill may seem unclear, and as it is still very early on in the process, there is a lot to be worked out in the new regulatory scheme.

What we do know is that the Bill is clearly focussing on medicinal cannabis. For people who are unfamiliar with medicinal cannabis, it’s important to point out the distinction between it and it’s recreational counterpart.

As stated by the Bill, medicinal cannabis is identified as a CBD product, meaning it contains cannabidiol (a naturally occurring chemical in cannabis) but does not contain any more than 2% THC – the chemical which causes the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

In other words, this means that for someone using medicinal marijuana, you’ll not be experiencing the ‘high’ that comes with using it recreationally

A changing attitude towards medicinal cannabis
It’s clear that the stigma around cannabis has been changing. A 2017 poll found that 81% of New Zealanders support the legalisation of medicinal marijuana for patients with terminal illnesses, and 60% of New Zealanders in favour of decriminalising recreational cannabis.

Many Kiwis have long been campaigning for the positive benefits of cannabis when it comes to treating pain and illnesses.

Medicinal marijuana campaigner and Greenfern advisor, TJ Irvin has experienced this first hand. His son Theo suffers from epilepsy and after years of testing different pharmaceutical drugs with little result, he turned to using cannabis to treat his son’s seizures. “Once we started the cannabis oil, his seizures stopped,” TJ says. “There’s no reason why other people shouldn’t have access to this kind of medication.”

While the Bill represents a big change for New Zealand, many people have criticised the government for not going far enough. As it currently stands, the Bill does not cover people who suffer from chronic pain or other serious illnesses.

While these concerns are valid, the significance of this Bill passing shouldn’t be understated. It’s a positive step forward for the future of the medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand and opens up the door for this medicine to be widely available to the Kiwis who need it most

“This is a positive step for holistic health, and a massive opportunity for investment in the New Zealand medicinal cannabis industry.”   Tim Johnson

The growth of a new industry in Aotearoa
The legalisation of medicinal marijuana opens up a world of opportunity for Kiwi businesses and investors. Currently, it is very expensive for patients to purchase CBD products, as they are supplied from overseas companies.

With the new Bill, a regulatory scheme and a growing demand for CBD products, it sets up a huge amount of opportunity for local medicinal cannabis suppliers.

While we’re only at the beginning stage, the industry is already gearing up, with a handful of Kiwi medicinal marijuana companies, like Greenfern, gaining their licences and getting substantial interest from investors.

As mentioned, a majority of New Zealanders are in favour of decriminalising cannabis, and with the government having just announced a binding referendum on legalising recreational cannabis in 2020, New Zealand could be preparing for a significant ‘greenrush’ in the very near future.

What could a ‘greenrush’ look like in New Zealand?
Over the past few years, many countries around the world have seen a booming cannabis industry.

In California, the cannabis market is expected to reach $2.6 billion in 2019, and our Australian neighbours across the ditch are vying to become one of the world’s top medicinal cannabis exporters. Globally, the cannabis industry is expected to reach $87.8 billion by 2024.

In October of this year, Canada became the second country in the world to completely legalise cannabis, both for medicinal and recreational production, sale and use.

According to a 2018 Deloitte report, Canada has seen “a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship that shares the fast-growing, can-do spirit of our technology sector.” It is estimated that the legal cannabis market in Canada is expected to generate $4.3 billion in sales in 2019.

While Canada operates at a much larger scale, it shows a great example of the potential medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand.

While there is a great opportunity for investment in this new industry, the New Zealand government will be playing an important role in laying out the rules and regulations for Kiwi cannabis companies. It is still early on in the stage and over the next year, the government will be setting out the scheme and working out their policies, regulations and restrictions.

We at Greenfern are excited to be a part of this and have been invited by the government to share our input towards the building of this scheme. It’s vital that experts, companies and the public work closely with the government to develop a scheme that’s fair and safe for all New Zealanders

“We believe the passing of this new Bill marks an important shift in the way New Zealand treats medicinal cannabis. This is positive news for those suffering from terminal illnesses and their families.”   Tim Johnson

An important change for the future
As New Zealand begins to follow in the steps of countries like Canada and Australia, and with the potential legalisation of recreational cannabis in 2020, I believe we’ll be seeing a huge amount of growth in the industry, with the creation of new jobs and burgeoning business opportunities.

Now is the time for New Zealanders to embrace the Kiwi spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship as we head towards a brighter, greener future


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As the Director and Engineer of Greenfern Medicinal Marijuana Ltd, Tim has a wide range of experience in New Zealand including in the forestry industry, FMCG, agriculture and energy. Based in Taranaki, Greenfern is a 100% New Zealand owned and operated therapeutics company. Their vision is to produce products that improve the lives of suffering New Zealanders who seek an alternative, more holistic approach to their medication intake.

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