Cannabis Oceania Pt.2: Insights from Prohibition Partners Conference

With plenty of interest in Oceania, all eyes are on New Zealand's upcoming referendum and how the outcome may shape the cannabis industry within the region. Read this article for more insights from the Prohibition Partners LIVE conference.

June 22nd and 23rd marked the return of Prohibition Partners LIVE, a global cannabis conference. Industry leaders, experts and analysts, congregated online to watch content, engage in discussions and share ideas related to the global cannabis industry.

In Part 1 of our coverage of the Oceanic cannabis industry, we explored topics such as the Australian and Asian markets, as well as the international expansion of cannabis companies. This week, we'll focus on the discussions centred around the upcoming New Zealand referendum and other changes in legislation in both Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand: A Closer Look

New Zealand is quickly emerging as a major player in the global cannabis industry, with an exciting moment in the country's history on the horizon. On the 19th of September, 2020 New Zealand will hold a referendum to put adult-use cannabis legalisation to a public vote, making it the first country in the world to do so. 

This presentation was lead by Ross Bell, the executive director of the NZ Drug Foundation, who discussed his organisation's 'Vote Yes On Our Terms' campaign for the upcoming referendum.

The idea of the referendum came from New Zealand's Green Party who wanted to collaborate with the Labour Party, lead by Jacinda Ardern. As part of this collaboration, the Green Party proposed some terms which included putting more money into drug treatment and to hold a public referendum on the legalisation of cannabis. 

Although Winston Peters, leader of the opposing New Zealand First party, has anti-cannabis views, he is a big believer of referendums so there was a mutual agreement between all parties.

While the acting government, including Jacinda Ardern, refuse to disclose their position on the matter, they have spent the last two years writing the law that people will be voting on. The question at the booths will be 'Do you support the Cannabis Legalisation & Control Bill?'. 

This bill has been finalised and is now available to the public but has not gone through the parliamentary process, as of yet. It has a focus on strict control as opposed to allowing a more free-market model.

The bill states that health and wellbeing are the foundations, with a national harm reduction strategy included. Purchasing and using cannabis will be restricted to people aged 20 or over and there will be no advertising of cannabis products or products that are appealing to children (e.g. gummy bears). 

These products will have a potency limit (<15% THC has been proposed) and will come with health warnings. There will be a phased approach to new products (e.g. seeds) and certain products, such as cannabis-infused beverages and products that have high-risk modes of consumption, will be strictly prohibited.

In regards to market controls, a national cannabis cultivation cap will be put in place. This means that the government will assess the size of the market and only grant licences to service the market need. Licences will be needed at each step of the supply chain, from seed to sale. 

There will also be a separation of market activities, as companies will not be allowed to hold both a cultivation and retail licence. This is to ensure that there is a market share and to prevent the monopolisation of the market by any big companies that emerge.

As minority communities, such as the Maori, have suffered the most from prohibition, the bill also contains social equity measures. To apply for a licence, your company will have to demonstrate that you are giving opportunities to the minorities that have been most affected. Another clause states that prior criminal conviction does not automatically prevent access to the market or employment in the industry.

Public opinion towards the vote has been volatile, with close to half the population on one side or the other. Because of this, the 'Vote Yes On Our Terms' campaign is mainly targeting the group of voters that remain undecided. The 3 key messages for this group are:

  1. Legal regulation will benefit medical cannabis patients by providing a broader range of products at a better price.
  2. The police will be freed up to focus on serious crime.
  3. The tax revenue that can be earned from legalisation will be reinvested into health education (e.g. drug education and treatment).

The NZ Drug Foundation hope that New Zealand's strong response to COVID-19 can be used as momentum for the campaign. A loss would send a clear message to a generation of politicians to avoid cannabis law reform, which is why the referendum could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Losing this referendum would be bad for New Zealand and risks stalling legalisation elsewhere in the world, but a win could accelerate the global movement. All industry watchers have their sights focused on the 19th of September, eagerly awaiting the outcome.

Preparing for Legislation and Change in Australia & New Zealand

With New Zealand drawing closer to its adult-use legalisation referendum and new forms of legislation being trialled in the ACT, the cannabis landscape within the region is rapidly changing. In this presentation, a panel of industry experts and leaders discussed the implications of legislation changes and the opportunities that they could present for both consumers and businesses. The guest speakers in this panel included Ben Quirin (Managing Director of Canopy Growth APAC), Paul Manning (CEO of Helius Therapeutics) and Mark Lucas (CEO of Cannasouth Limited).

In April of this year, New Zealand welcomed new medical cannabis regulations which have been well-received and aim to improve patient access. The changes have created a straightforward pathway for prescribers who are now able to prescribe medical cannabis without the patient requiring pre-defined conditions. Another positive change is that medical cannabis prescriptions no longer require an additional sign-off from a specialist.

The next goal for New Zealand is to start producing medicines that they can get out to patients quickly. As with most jurisdictions, EuGMP is the standard that medicines from New Zealand are attempting to adhere to. There are lots of quality controls and requirements that are unique to New Zealand but this should put them in a good position to be a global leader in quality and innovation.

Australia has also come a long way in regards to patient access. Patients will no longer endure a 9-10 month wait for their medical cannabis prescriptions to be approved, with the approval process closer to a 48-hour wait. After the acceleration of this process, the Australian senate looked into other barriers to patient access and the education of physicians was identified as a major focus.

While most members of the medical community believe there is merit in the therapeutic effects of cannabis, most professionals are awaiting further regulations. Physicians are also cautious about receiving cannabis education from pharmaceutical companies, due to the bias they may have in presenting the information.

The key lies in the clinical data and how it is presented. Most medical professionals are extremely intelligent so if the clinical evidence is presented in the right way, more physicians would be confident in prescribing cannabis.

The next step in improving patient access in Australia and New Zealand is to improve the affordability of cannabis-based medicines. While the Cannabis Legalisation & Control Bill in New Zealand pertains mainly to the recreational use of cannabis, there are some within the industry who believe that approval of the bill could improve access to cannabis that can be used medicinally and is more affordable. 

Passing of the bill could also pave the way for the creation of recreational products and non-prescription wellness products. This could potentially stimulate a wave of product innovation from New Zealand with major opportunities being identified in bioavailability and new medical devices.

A lot of prescribers and the public think medicinal cannabis is smoking cannabis or a simple oil with THC or CBD – but this is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm convinced that there's far more people that can utilise cannabinoids (for wellness) than there are that just want to get stoned from cannabis.Mark Lucas, CEO of Cannasouth Limited

Submissions have also been made both by the TGA and private companies to make CBD products available without a prescription. These products would be accessed over-the-counter (OTC) at pharmacies, which would ensure that quality standards are in place. CBD is a massive market in both countries and is a major area of growth. 

With the acceptance of CBD products growing within the region, the next step will be the development of THC-containing products and other formulations with specific cannabinoids. Gathering clinical data and having specific medicines for specific conditions is the ultimate goal in improving lives through medical cannabis.

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Josh Griffin
Josh Griffin

Josh is a Perth-based writer with a background in psychology and pharmacology. Through his studies he has gained an interest in abnormal psychology, mental health and psychopharmacology and has reported on these topics. Currently, his main focus is on cannabinoids and their medical potential.

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