NZ’s untapped potential of the emerging global industry of non-medicincal cannabis

Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Aotearoa in April 2020, which was a huge win for many of the one in six Kiwis who suffer from chronic pain – often remedied by medicinal CBD products.

The emerging market of medicinal cannabis is a natural option for relief from symptoms from some very impactful therapeutic conditions (eg, chronic pain, epilipisy, anxiety among others). This markert  is being much more clearly identified by medical practitioners across Aotearoa and prescribed to the patients under their care.

As our industry continues to develop and grow, and New Zealand becomes more aquainted with the theraputic qualities of cannabis products, another market is emerging globally, and participation in this growth market could represent significant potential for our economy.

Non-Medicinal Cannabinoid (NMC) products are primarily CBD products created for a consumer market. The products with no THC (and therefore not psychoactive) represent a burgeoning global market is that is dominated by CBD nutraceuticals, supplements, and food additives. These products are generally produced from hemp based (rather than cannabis based) CBD, and are a much lower concentration of CBD than medicinal products.

Here in Aotearoa, the conditions are prime for turning this category, non-medicinal cannabinoids, into a highly successful primary export industry, and a financial boon for the NZ hemp industry.

Currently, there are three licensed cannabis product sectors in New Zealand:

  • Industrial hemp seed food products – online and in retail outlets
  • Industrial hemp fibre products – online and in retail outlets
  • Pharmaceutical cannabis products – available with doctor’s prescription

The demand for NMCs is strong globally, and it’s likely that demand would exisit here, based on population deomgraphics. However, our hemp industry is restricted from large scale growing of industrial hemp for NMC products, and is only allowed to utilise hemp for seed and fibre products.

A Ministry of Primary Industries report from last year[1] revealed the emerging NMC market to be a driving factor in farmers considering hemp as a viable crop for their investment.

The key challenge facing this emerging industry here is the ongoing prohibition on the use of CBD outside of medicinal products. While we have the technical and agricultural capacity to grow and export hemp based CBD products to other countries, the local market remains unable to profit from consumer-facing NMC products.

In fact, few people in government and the wider business community understand the commercial value chain behind this new sector. It could very quickly become the next high-value agriculture/horticulture industry in Aotearoa, following the successful model of our wine industry.

We need to start the discussion about how the NMC market could develop in Aotearoa and what the regulatory situation needs to look like to allow a pathway for non-medicinal/consumer goods exports (both finished products and ingredients).

Ultimately, to reach viable scale the hemp industry requires large scale growing of industrial hemp for NMC products as well as seed and fibre products.

Growers need to earn sustainable returns from their harvests. As with wine, this country cannot achieve scale and grower returns without major export market revenue streams. Very clearly, the domestic market is too small to justify the necessary investment capital.

In addition, the Canterbury region and the lower North Island are perfectly suited to large scale industrial hemp growing, and offer significant cost and efficiency advantages over other hemp growing nations.

The international case studies for NMCs are strong and as consumer CBD products become more and more commonplace, we don’t want to see Aotearoa left behind.

Many leaders in our industry, alongside iwi, and investors we have talked to believe the time is right in to come together and lead a collaborative campaign to about the benefits of a NMC export growth industry and advocate the regulatory changes necessary to drive towards enabling this growth.

By Mitch Cuevas, Pharmaceutical Director, Eqalis. Hear more from Mitch about New Zealand’s 2 Billion Dollar Opportunity at MedCan 2022

Eqalis is the gold sponsor of MedCan 2022