Hikurangi Enterprises, which secured a licence from the Ministry of Health last year to establish a small trial crop of industrial hemp at Ruatoria, was heartened by last week's approval for the production of hemp seeds for human consumption.
"This is a step in the right direction," Koe Koeaa Collective spokesman Manu Caddie said, adding that the collective envisaged hemp creating jobs in the Far North.
"The Food Standards Australia New Zealand recommendation that had been approved will open up many new opportunities for the hemp industry to grow in both countries," Mr Caddie said.
"The seeds are a source of many nutritious compounds, and a wide variety of products is already in markets that relaxed their regulations years ahead of us. Export opportunities to the US and other markets will be maximised if officials can ensure harmonisation in the classification of hemp varieties and organic certification standards."
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was the best-known of more than 100 cannabinoids, and was the compound that created the "high" obtained from marijuana. The next most common, cannabidiol (CBD), had no psychoactive properties and no known adverse side-effects from consumption. It did, however, have proven benefits for a wide range of biological and neurological functions.
"In New Zealand, a division of the Ministry of Health, Medicines Control, currently presents the biggest barrier to the commercialisation of industrial hemp," Mr Caddie added.
"Medicines Control is a team of public servants who have the tricky job of regulating drugs in New Zealand. They are largely responsible for regulating, and are also subject to the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, and the Medicines Act 1981. They interpret the legislation, and do so in one particularly contentious way.
"The position the Ministry of Health has taken on CBD needs to change.
"The UN 1961 Drug Convention, that New Zealand is a signatory to and that guides drug laws, does not regard industrial hemp as a narcotic. Article 28 of the Convention is clear that 'The Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes.'
"The 2006 industrial hemp regulations are very clear that there is a list of approved cultivars that have been proven to contain less than the required 0.35 per cent THC, and that all parts of these plants may be used to produce hemp products.
"Medicines Control officials argue that CBD had not been discovered, or at least wasn't a popular extract from hemp, when the 2006 regulations (and UN Drugs Convention) were passed.
The MoH is consequently taking a conservative approach, and preventing CBD from being extracted, because they regard it as an isomer of THC, so is regulated under the definition of a controlled drug."
The government's own analytical chemistry organisation (ESR) had provided clear scientific evidence (to the High Court) that CBD was in fact not an isomer of THC, however, so it should not be regulated as a controlled drug, but the MoH was maintaining its position, and had erected numerous barriers for organisations like Koe Koeaa that were keen to undertake laboratory research and commercial development work involving CBD extracts from industrial hemp.
"A long list of regulatory barriers that are preventing the extraction, analysis, research, product development and exporting of CBD products (that retails for around $25,000 per litre) is stifling a potentially lucrative industry for this region, while producers overseas move rapidly to develop novel therapeutic products based on extracts from industrial hemp," Mr Caddie said.
"The Ministry of Health policy could be amended overnight ...
Cannabidiol (CBD) is not listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act, so does not require special approval. The Ministry of Health is acting unlawfully and ignoring expert advice."