The government has given a cash injection to the country’s largest medicinal cannabis grower, saying it could become as successful as the wine industry.
Puro, a specialist cannabis grower near Kēkerengū, between Blenheim and Kaikōura, was given a $32 million grant today.
The $13m is coming from taxpayer money, and the remaining $19m is from private investors.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the “weird and wacky” grant would kickstart the organic medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand.
“There’s a lot changing, and a lot of the new generation coming into agriculture are excited by the potential,” he said.
O’Connor said one of the main reasons for the investment was to diversify the agriculture industry to combat climate change.
He said it was part of a program that would provide information for anyone else entering the industry.
“Part of the agreement was that we would contribute $13m on the taxpayer on the basis that the wider industry gets the chance to learn the lessons from this program over five years.”
Puro will develop an organic production handbook for indoor and outdoor growing, as well as seed stock for the New Zealand industry.
Up to 200 jobs will be created in the Kaikōura and Marlborough regions as part of the project.
A two-week harvest was kicking off at Puro where the announcement was made today.
With 51,000 plants at the farm, it will be the largest cannabis harvest ever to take place in New Zealand.
Puro cultivation director Tom Forrest has worked internationally growing cannabis, and said there was no better place to grow it than on the coast just north of Kaikōura.
“This is a truly breathtaking site, we have the turquoise water with the seals on the beach, the snow-capped mountains in the background, and as an agronomist and a plant scientist, it’s a truly pristine environment to cultivate high-grade medicinal cannabis .”
Farm owner and Puro co-founder Sank Mcfarlane said the new venture was significant for his family.
“We’ve been here for five or six generations, it’s really exciting, it’s a significant step forward for the family, and we’ve just been really excited to be able to get out and pop back into the farm.”
The seedlings were first planted two years ago and are harvested annually.
They are then hung inside to dry for up to 10 days, before they are trimmed to leave only the most potent part of the plant.
Then it is packaged and sent throughout New Zealand and internationally.
Helius Therapeutics chief executive Carmen Doran is partnering with Puro to distribute the cannabis, and said it was already being sent to a wide variety of pharmacies across the country.
“Most of the products we have in market already in New Zealand are products that are taken orally,” she said.
“Right now you can go to your doctor and get medicinal cannabis products that are New Zealand made, and that’s a really exciting thing for our patients.”
Medicinal cannabis was legalized in 2017, and a referendum to legalise cannabis for recreational use narrowly failed to pass in 2020.