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The land of the long white cloud
A short history of cannabis in New Zealand
New Zealand has no Catholic saints, but Suzanne Aubert is on her way to becoming the first one, having already been declared “venerable” by Pope Francis. As Mother Aubert she also has another first to her name: she was the first person to grow cannabis in New Zealand.
Amongst the British colonies, New Zealand was one of the few places where Great Britain did not encourage the growing of hemp. This is because the local plant, harakeke was used for fibre.
This means that cannabis only arrived in New Zealand by the mid-1800s and Mother Aubert, a humanitarian who seemed to spend her life building yet another hospital, school or facility for the under privileged, had a whole range of herbal medicines that she used. One of the ingredients she needed was cannabis and due to a lack of it, she grew it herself. Selling the herbal medicines was her way of raising money for her various charity projects. This means that, theoretically speaking, she was not only the first cannabis grower in New Zealand, but also the first drug dealer. Not bad going for a Catholic nun.
Once cannabis arrived (together with other mid-1800 hits like opium) it quickly spread in popularity and The New Zealand Herald proudly advertised cannabis cigarettes as a cure for asthma and bronchitis. By 1889 on the publication of the book The New Zealand Family Herb Doctor, cannabis was already recommended as a cure for a variety of illnesses. Chlorodyne, a popular patent medicine and cough lozenges for children also contained cannabis.
As a signee of the 1912 International Opium Convention, New Zealand, like the rest of the world, started clamping down on a variety of freely available drugs which culminated in the banning of cannabis via die Dangerous Drugs Act in 1927.
New Zealand only stopped the importation of medical cannabis in 1955 at the request of the WHO.
The usage of cannabis was rare for most of the twentieth century in New Zealand except for “musicians and university students”. Few people grew it in their back garden and a few more picked it up from sailors that harboured. At a time when all pubs were forced to close at 18h00, illegal beerhouses served as a distribution network.
By 1990, when the University of Auckland’s Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit surveyed 5 000 people in Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, they found that 43 percent of people questioned had tried marijuana at some point. A follow-up survey in 1998 found that number had increased to 52 percent.
The cultivation and distribution of industrial hemp was legalised in 2006.
In 2017 medicinal cannabis was a major election issue in New Zealand and soon
after being elected, the government announced that it was committed to making medicinal cannabis available for people with a terminal illness or chronic pain.
The Medicinal Cannabis Bill came into force in 2018 and allowed terminally ill people to use illicit cannabis and set the stage for a scheme that would allow medicinal cannabis to be manufactured, imported and supplied in New Zealand with a license.
Up to 2018 CBD was available on prescription only. This has changed. Currently CBD is no longer a controlled drug as long as the THC levels do not exceed 2%.
The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme started in April 2020 to improve access to quality medicinal cannabis. The scheme, which is overseen by the Ministry of Health’s Medicinal Cannabis Agency enables the commercial cultivation, manufacture and supply of cannabis use with a license.
Recreational cannabis is still illegal after a surprise referendum result in 2020 – 50,7% of people voted against it.
The various licenses:
Cultivation – A cultivation license is required to cultivate cannabis for use in a medicinal cannabis product, cultivate and supply seeds, plants or plant material to another cultivator or appropriate medicinal cannabis licence holder.
Nursery – A nursery license may be appropriate if you intend to act as a ‘seed merchant’ only. A nursery activity does not allow cultivation or supply of cannabis plants or plant material
Research – You must hold a licence with a research activity if you intend to supply or administer a medicinal cannabis product that is not a CBD product to a person who is a research subject in a clinical trial. Clinical trials involving CBD products do not require a Medicinal Cannabis licence.
Possession for Manufacture – You will need a ‘possession for manufacture’ activity specified on your licence if you intend to process dried cannabis, extract a cannabis-based ingredient, manufacture a medicinal cannabis product, develop test methods, perform laboratory testing or engage in product development of medicinal cannabis products
Supply – You will need a ‘supply’ activity specified on your licence if you intend to supply or export starting material, cannabis-based ingredients, or medicinal cannabis products
What you need to have to apply for a license
- A location. As part of the assessment of your medicinal cannabis licence application, the Medicinal Cannabis Agency will carry out an inspection of each location listed in your application to check that adequate security arrangements are in place.
- Licenses. You may be required to hold one or more further licences in addition to a medicinal cannabis licence, depending on the nature of your business
For an individual, the following rules apply:
- Must be 18 years or older and live in New Zealand
- Must be familiar with, and have the expertise and resources to comply with, the obligations imposed by the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulations 2019
- Must not have had a licence issued under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (or any regulations made under that Act) that has been revoked
- Must not have had a conviction under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, or for any other drug-related offence, or a conviction involving dishonesty within the meaning of the Crimes Act 1961
- Must not have been convicted of an offence overseas that, if committed in New Zealand, would be an offence under the above legislation.
For a company, the following rules apply:
Download the checklist below to find out
Every license holder must guard against the risk of misuse and protect the crop from man and animal. The Medical Cannabis Agency (MCA) may have an inspection to see if you are sticking to the rules and you have to keep adequate records that can be checked. If you are the victim of a crime you have to let the police and the MCA know within three days.
Minimum Quality Standard
The medicinal cannabis minimum quality standard is determined by law. All suppliers of cannabis-based ingredients, starting material for export and medicinal cannabis products (including CBD products) must provide evidence to the Medicinal Cannabis Agency that their products meet the minimum standard before they can be supplied.
The testing requirements and maximum limits are based on the European Pharmacopoeia which provides quality standards for medicines and their components. Medicinal cannabis must be tested for:
- Microbial contamination
- Heavy metals
- Absence of aflatoxins
- Ochratoxin A
- Foreign matter
- Loss on drying
- Total ash
- Residual solvents
Other quality standards include: Active ingredients, shelf life and storage conditions, container material, labelling, identification, dosage form, excipients, restrictions to control contamination.
Testing laboratories must be compliant with New Zealand GMP and ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accreditation is recognised as appropriate for laboratories testing starting material for export.
Curious about the permits, procedures, and licensing fees for starting a cannabis operation in New Zealand? Unlock the comprehensive guide here and gain access to valuable insights and expert recommendations!
Do you have any questions on the regulatory framework in New Zealand? Contact us!