New Zealanders from all walks of life are truly embracing medicinal cannabis and the prospect of products becoming more widely available from next year.
But many Kiwis underestimate the huge potential of this exciting new sector. If done well, it could be worth hundreds of millions in GDP and deliver significant export earnings for our country.
It is nearly 12 months since MPs from all sides of the House got behind medicinal cannabis. Legislation was passed to enable companies to research, grow, manufacture and sell products, making medicinal cannabis more affordable for Kiwi patients, with a likely prescription-based access system from next year.
With the Ministry of Health set to soon finalise the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, New Zealand Inc now needs to lift its sights for what is one of newest and fastest-growing industries in the world.
Medicinal cannabis is arguably the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity of a generation, and as a country we need to grab it and run with it. After all, medicinal cannabis plays perfectly to NZ's strengths.
Some compare its potential to our wine industry or, more recently, the manuka honey success. I say it's much bigger. Regardless, producing high quality, natural therapeutics from ostensibly the greenest place on Earth sits nicely with the New Zealand story.
Given advances on controlled indoor growing systems, any country can grow cannabis. But NZ can add value through innovation and advanced manufacturing.
Forget the image of cannabis out in the bush. Our industry will be less about growing and more about biotechnology. It needs to be about developing intellectual property for the massive global medicinal cannabis industry — estimated to reach $55 billion by 2025.
We might not be the first to embrace medicinal cannabis, but without doubt we have all the ingredients to deliver ground-breaking developments and unlock the therapeutic power of the world's most pharmacologically active plant.
NZ has extraordinary capability. It has a well-respected and collegial scientific community, thriving horticultural, agritech and biotech sectors, and of course it is renowned for its innovation. The Government offers favourable research and development incentives and clinical trials are more cost-effective here than in many parts of the world.
The good news is the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation are already working to assess the enormous potential of this new industry, with a firm eye on economic and exporting opportunities.
Let's not also forget our country already has favourable trade deals with many key markets and we're in proximity to 60 per cent of the world's population.
The chance to create an entirely new industry, convert a black market to a legitimate economy, and make a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people doesn't come every day.
NZ today needs to focus on creating new "value-add" industries, and here's the perfect opportunity.
Already there are opportunities for everyday Kiwis to get involved, from taking out a small-scale cultivation licence, buying shares in a company, to starting up an auxiliary business to support or supply the industry.
While our immediate priority is to serve Kiwi patients, Helius wants to play a key role in helping New Zealand reach its potential as a global centre of excellence for medicinal cannabis innovation.
Within 10 years, Helius expects to have a breakthrough treatment for chronic pain that gives patients on every continent the chance to choose a natural medicine that cuts the need for opioids. We also expect to have a natural sleep product that will replace often-harsh benzodiazepines.
Worldwide, the industry is in its relative infancy. There remain a lot of unknowns about the market potential and scientists have barely scraped the surface in understanding the plant's therapeutic properties. However, with newness comes enormous opportunity for the companies and countries that are prepared to be bold.
To help kickstart our country embrace of this new frontier, we're backing New Zealand's first international medical cannabis summit. Organised by BioTechNZ, Medcan 2020 will bring leaders from around the world to Auckland on March 18 and 19 next year.
Medicinal cannabis is set to become a major contributor to New Zealand's knowledge economy, combining medicine, science and technology with a global marketplace. An opportunity has never been riper for our nation's picking.
• Paul Manning is a co-founder and co-chief executive of medicinal cannabis firm Helius Therapeutics.