A Tauranga-based medical cannabis company is aiming to build an agricultural-industry to match the value of the billion-dollar kiwifruit sector.
The company, MediCann, plans to follow a similar growing and cultivation model comparable to Zespri's and scale its growing production to qualified horticulturalists in the Bay of Plenty.
MediCann has gone public with its plans as the health select committee considered the Government's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill. National had also proposed its own cannabis bill.
MediCann managing director Brendon Ogilvy said the company had exclusive New Zealand rights to more than 30 medically-certified, European-registered cannabis strains.
Ogilvy said the company was poised to release grower licences pending the final decision on whether Kiwis would be able to legally access cannabis for medicinal purposes, which he was confident would go ahead.
Growers would apply to become a MediCann NZ Medical Cannabis Licensed Producer and the company would expertise and supply of all hardware, consumables and agronomists from their Bay of Plenty grower network.
Ogilvy said it was an ambitious plan, but the company was ready and had the right expertise onboard.
"It makes sense to build New Zealand's newest horticulture industry here in the Bay, as we have global growing credibility," he said. "The horticultural expertise is second to none."
Ogilvy said the company would contract growers on a 1000m2 basis with medicinal marijuana grown in a fully-insulated coolstore facility on a grower's land, Ogilvy said.
"Every crop will be grown indoors, under lights, highly secured," he said.
Ogilvy said horticulture growers and iwi had already expressed strong interest in partnering with MediCann.
"We are talking about leaders in their own industries from kiwifruit to avocado to blueberry to manuka honey," he said. "They see it as a new crop that is very valuable."
The company's board included pharmacist Elizabeth Plant, well-known New Zealand General Practitioner and Tauranga skin cancer doctor Dr Franz Strydom and Luc Krol who had 40 years' expertise in the medical cannabis industry. Investors included horticultural experts, as well as medical experts.
"We see this as a primary industry that will scale very quickly. We wanted people who know how to do this and have done it before so we can do this quickly, safely and do it right," he said.
"We are not just talking about people down the road, we are talking about real power brokers in the region."
MediCann will purchase the crops and manufacture medical-grade cannabis which Ogilvy said could meet estimated domestic demand and provide a launchpad for future exports.
"For example, 17.2 hectares of medical cannabis crop has the potential to return a similar value to 12500 hectares of kiwifruit," he said.
Ogilvy said MediCann had the capacity to issue 172 licences equivalent to 1000m2 of growing footprint each, totalling 172,000m2.
Export opportunities could begin in the next two or three years if the legislation is passed, he said.
Ogilvy said the company would evaluate the idea of growers being able to buy shares in the market in the next few years.
He said there would be a number of delivery systems including gel capsules, transdermal patches, as well as a vapable product.
Ogilvy said MediCann was focused on effectively matching specific medicinal cannabis strains to the successful treatment of specific patient ailments.
"We have worked hard to ensure the right European GMP [good manufacturing practice] certified genetics are able to be grown locally and address the local demand of medical cannabis needs," he said.
Board member Elizabeth Plant said the company planned to produce the best quality pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis at the most affordable price for New Zealanders.
However, Plant said the product needed to be produced and manufactured as a medicine because there are specific strains for different conditions.
"Cannabis is such an exciting drug because it mimics that body's natural defence mechanisms that regulates things like pain and inflammation," she said.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said the idea was a good one due to the Bay of Plenty's strong horticulture industry.
He was supportive of high value industries the Bay could get involved in was positive because of the economic benefits of the region.
"High value horticulture is a place where the Bay is proven to have its place in the world," he said.
Tutt said the horticulture industry competed well in the kiwifruit industry because of the suited environment.
"Any high value industry is really good to get into from the Bay's point of view."
Katikati kiwifruit grower Neil Trebilco said growers were looking for every piece of bare land they could to expand into more kiwifruit.
"Because the kiwifruit industry is on a strong growth path I can't imagine any other crops would be attractive to growers."