New research shows support for legalising recreational marijuana has lifted but the race remains too tight to call.
A survey, the fourth of its kind of the last 12 months, shows that support has risen 9 per cent in the last quarter.
Around 48 per cent of the 1199 adult Kiwis surveyed say they would now vote yes for the legalisation, while 39 per cent sit in the no camp.
The figures have fluctuated massively over the course of the four surveys, conducted by research firm Horizon for Kiwi cannabis firm Helius Therapeutics.
In November 2018, support sat at 60 per cent, before dropping to 52 per cent in April and then to an all-time low of 39 per cent in August.
Paul manning, the co-chief executive of cannabis firm Helius Therapeutics, attributes the fluctuations – and recent lift in the yes camp – to recent events in the media.
"Factors could include September's release of the Helen Clark Foundation's report titled 'The case for Yes', the hit documentary series 'Patrick Gower: On Weed', and perhaps a reduction in scaremongering by conservative groups, for now," Manning says.
Manning has been highly critical of some of opinions being expressed on the debate, saying that "woefully ill-informed" scaremongering could cost the economy millions.
The debate is increasingly divided along partisan lines, with 60 per cent of Labour voters in support and 65 per cent of National voters against legalisation.
The major political party with the strongest level of support is the Green Party with 70 per cent, while National sits on the other side of the spectrum with only 24 per cent of its voters willing to tick "yes" at the referendum.
"Back in August, it seemed the referendum was heading for defeat but I'm not so sure now," says Manning.
"A lot of support from middle-aged Kiwis has returned, with Labour and Greens voters also now clearly swinging in behind. The reality is, who turns out on election day will ultimately decide the referendum result."
The vote could very well be decided by the 14 per cent of voters who currently say they have no opinion on the matter. The ways these voters swing will ultimately determine whether the legislation passes at next year's election or not.
While Manning is focused strictly on the medicinal side of the industry, he does believe recreational legalisation could have a broader impact on the whole industry.
He says it would take recreational cannabis away from a gang-controlled black market and free over 320,000 everyday Kiwis from breaking the law.
"Without doubt, legalising personal use would enable the creation of a wider variety of cannabis-based wellness products. These could include over-the-counter health supplements and cosmetics."
A $15m top-up
Manning told the Herald that his company is currently in the process of raising a further $15 million in a bid to expand the company's operations and make a number of additional hires.
This will add to the $15m the company raised last year from local investors, led by richlisters Guy and Sue Haddleton.
A decent chunk of the money has so far been used establishing the business and setting up a state-of-the-art medical cannabis facility in East Tamaki.
Manning says stage one of this facility will be completed by February next year, putting it on track to commercialise the business as soon as legislation allows.
In addition to building the premises for its operations, Helius has also made a few structural tweaks within the hierarchy of the business in recent months.
For starters, the company has adopted a co-chief executive structure, which sees Manning lead R&D, product and brand experience; and Gavin Pook in charge of HR, health and safety, and finance.
The company has also appointed Mitch Cuevas, previously MD at pharmaceutical giant API, and pain specialist Dr Rick Acland to its board.
Earlier this year, the company also hired neuroscientist Dr Jim Polston to become its chief science officer.
Crowd-funding cash cow
In other cannabis news, Crowdfunding website Pledgeme says more than $6m has been raised for medicinal cannabis through over 2300 investors in the last 18 months.
These investors now hold shares in Gold Coast-based CDA Health, Marlborough-based Puro and Ruatoria-based Waipu Investments.
Puro has raised the most funds for a campaign in PledgeMe history, with its combined whole and public raise hitting $2.5m through 646 investors.
So far, Pledgeme has run a total of four equity campaigns in the cannabis space.
In addition to Puro continuing to raise funds through the site, Pledgeme is currently also running a campaign to raise funds to open a Whakamana Cannabis Museum in Christchurch. This campaign has so far raised $116,000.
Local Kiwi firm Medical Kiwi has signed a memorandum of understanding with Empirical Labs, which develops dietary supplements in the US market.
"The world's eyes are on New Zealand and we were extremely pleased that a global leader with 30 years' experience in formulation and optimal ways of delivering pharmaceuticals, came through our door to work with us," said Medical Kiwi chairman Aldo Miccio.
"Our new relationship with Empirical Labs means that we can get proven cannabis products quicker to market as they are ahead of New Zealand in research and development."
Established in December 2018, Medical Kiwi was the first medicinal cannabis company in the South Island to be granted a cultivation licence by the Ministry of Health, allowing the company to establish a cannabis breeding programme for research and development for medicinal cannabis.
These licences do not yet allow cannabis firms to sell any product. They will have to wait until legislation changes next year to possibly earn any revenue from the products they develop.
Medical Kiwi is currently establishing a number of international deals with the view toward selling these products in the coming years.
Medical Kiwi has also signed an exclusive distribution deal with Vitality CBD, allowing the company to import and sell Vitality CBD's range of 0 per cent THC products, currently sold across the UK including in Boots stores, Tesco supermarkets, pharmacies and health stores.