The word cannabis often comes with a range of negative connotations, but one Far North woman is on a mission to change that perception.
Holly Wright (Ngāti Kurī-Te Hapua) grew up in Hūkerenui and is the first female co-founder of a New Zealand medicinal cannabis company.
Holly and her American husband, Paul, launched Organic Genetics in 2019, a biotechnology company with a vision to provide Kiwis with a natural alternative to opioids.
The company is already backed by a number of global partners, including Originals California and Kind Future founder Jonathan "JJ" Jones.
Jonathan is the vice executive president at cannabis technology and software company Weedmaps, which is listed on the NASDAQ with a current market capitalisation of US$3.7 billion.
Organic Genetics has been independently valued at NZ$30,145,000 pre-revenue and a forecasted NZ$46.8 million revenue across the first five years for medicinal cannabis and NZ$56.6 million for hemp.
While the medicinal cannabis market is yet to take off in New Zealand, Wright said she was excited about the industry's future in Aotearoa.
"Paul and I have been solidly working to get Organic Genetics off the ground for the last few years," Holly said.
"My husband is originally from Los Angeles and we've therefore been heavily influenced by his friends and family who are all involved in the industry, whether it be as a lawyer, accountant, investor or supplier.
"Medicinal cannabis is forecasted as a multibillion-dollar industry [US$46.18 billion by 2026] and so the potential for success here in New Zealand is very high."
Holly said their passion for the industry was also personal, having witnessed their own family and friends suffer adverse effects from heavy opioids to assist with injuries or illness.
"While opioids have their place, medicinal cannabis is all-natural and can sometimes work better," Holly said.
"Medicinal cannabis has potential benefits for a large number of different ailments and has been found to be particularly helpful in cancer and palliative care patients, as well as epilepsy and helping to reduce or slow down seizures."
New Zealand's Medicinal Cannabis Scheme came into effect on April 1, 2020 with the start of the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulations 2019.
The purpose of the scheme was to improve access to quality medicinal cannabis products for patients, which would only be available to patients on prescription from a doctor.
As a result, manufacturers and importers are required to provide evidence to the Medicinal Cannabis Agency that they consistently meet minimum standards of quality before they can be supplied.
Those who want to work in the industry need to hold a medicinal cannabis licence or work for a person or company that holds a licence.
According to the Drug Foundation New Zealand, the new scheme should enable more patients to access products, however, products often remain inaccessible due to high costs and a lack of training and understanding from doctors on prescribing protocols.
The next step for Organic Genetics is to set up a European Union (EU) Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified, indoor cultivation facility in Auckland.
This will house on-site extraction, processing and manufacturing facilities with the capacity to process 3,628kg of dried cannabis flowers per annum.
Holly said she also had her sights set on Te Hiku, where Organic Genetics had recently signed an agreement for an outdoor location as part of a joint venture with Aupōuri Ngāti Kahu Te Rarawa (ANT) Trust.
Organic Genetics will utilise up to 50ha of flat land to grow its CBD-rich hemp plants, which will be housed in more than 10 greenhouses, with an output of two-three crop cycles per year.
Holly said Organic Genetics and ANT Trust aimed to work closely with the local community to develop social initiatives, such as giving back a two per cent profit share to the Kaitaia Community and various employment and training opportunities.
"I grew up in Te Hiku and all my friends and family reside there, so it has a huge place in my heart," Holly said.
"There weren't a lot of job opportunities there growing up, so it was hard and I've always had a calling to do something where I could give back to the community.
"I went to Blanche Murray from ANT Trust who is also my whanaunga (relative) and shares the same vision as I do in terms of social initiatives.
"Together we want to drive economic growth, provide jobs and help improve the lives of local residents, while protecting the mauri (lifeforce) of the whenua (land)."
ANT spokeswoman and Kai Ora Honey founder Blanche Morrogh said she was thrilled to work with Holly to help create change and to empower her people.
"From an ANT Trust perspective, this initiative is all about the people and while we have a staunch social side, this is the first time for us to branch into the commercial side of our organisation which is exciting," Blanche said.
"To bring an industry which is growing exponentially on an international scale into a rural community struggling with social and economic pain is going to be a gamechanger.
"This is a good opportunity to not only create jobs for our tangata whenua, but to also create educational pieces around an industry that has been considered taboo for a long time.
"As soon as the industry does start to boom, the time and energy used to establish a foundation in an industry like this will benefit all in the community and sets us up for the future.
"It also means we get to share our knowledge and skillsets with those who whakapapa back to the land and to create an opportunity for our people to really flourish and to go from deprivation to celebration."
Organic Genetics has recently partnered with pharmaceutical and nutraceutical company iX Biopharma, which plans to offer its medicinal cannabis products to the New Zealand market.
Once selected products have been submitted and approved by the Ministry of Health, Holly predicts the partnership will deliver a significant revenue stream from the onset.
To get to that next step, Organic Genetics has launched a PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign to raise $4 million to accelerate growth.
Holly said she encouraged anyone who believed in the science behind the plant to join them at this exciting junction of the business.
"Everyday we're hearing more and more stories from Kiwis asking for medicinal cannabis as part of their treatment plan," she said.
"That's why we're extremely privileged to be offering this investment opportunity so that we, as a community, can change the scope of the medical industry here in Aotearoa.
"It will also allow us to provide safe, effective and accessible medicinal cannabis products to people who really need them."
PledgeMe CEO Dr Claire McGowan said she had seen a lot of equity crowdfunding activity in the medicinal cannabis industry in the past three years, with medicinal cannabis campaigns alone accounting for more than NZ$10 million of capital raised on PledgeMe.
Organic Genetics' PledgeMe campaign is live to the public until 12pm, October 26.
For more information, visit: www.pledgeme.co.nz/investments/471-organic-genetics.