Calls for cannabis green light
It’s green, environmentally-friendly and growing in popularity around the world but some say a roaring cannabis market is about to pass New Zealand by.
Growers and farmers are taking a keen interest in cannabis, as countries around the world legalise its cultivation for medicinal purposes.
Some are looking at the plant’s potential in light of falling dairy prices and restrictions around importing seeds, most recently due to an outbreak of the invasive weed velvetleaf.
They are hamstrung by one critical factor: unlike their counterparts in Canada, Australia, and more than half of US states, growing cannabis for medicinal purposes is illegal in New Zealand.
‘‘There are definitely some growers in horticulture now who can see some opportunities [in medicinal cannabis],’’ said Horticulture NZ spokeswoman Leigh Catley.
‘‘But it’s all hypothetical, because it’s not legal.
‘‘If it is legitimate and sensible for us to make this a legal and sustainable business opportunity, then that’s what we should do.
‘‘We should take a closer look at it.’’
New Zealand is well equipped for growing cannabis.
Areas such as Mid-canterbury, the ‘‘grain bowl of New Zealand’’, have numerous farmers with commercial crop infrastructure in place.
‘‘[Cannabis] has to be grown under cover, so the best people to do it are the people who have already got the infrastructure in place; people who are growing capsicums, tomatoes, eggplants, that sort of stuff,’’ Catley said.
Former Waikato dairy farmer John Lord is now one of the largest legal cannabis merchants in Colorado. Benjamin Zaitz, one of his competitors, also started as a dairy farmer.
Lord was not available to be interviewed, but recently told RNZ he had become jaded by dairy farming, which led him on the path to legal cannabis.
‘‘Dairy farming in New Zealand, I became disillusioned and frustrated. It was one of the few businesses in the world where you never sold anything or marketed anything yourself.
Some are looking at the plant’s potential in light of falling dairy prices.
‘‘New business is such a rare, rare thing today, and this [cannabis] was it.’’
For Lord to take the opportunity, he had to go to Colorado, which allows both medicinal and recreational cannabis use.
The industry is worth about $1 billion to the state, and generated $135m in tax revenue in 2015.
Medicinal cannabis advocate Billy Mckee, who self-medicated with the drug after being hit by a drunk-driver, said he had spoken to farmers interested in moving into cannabis market.
Hemp – a different use of the cannabis plant, with a much lower concentration of the psychoactive make-up of marijuana – was something dairy farmers were already interested in growing in light of flagging dairy prices.
‘‘You can see the sense in it. A lot of farmers are doing it hard, and a lot of them are really struggling . . . Some dairy farmers I was talking to were losing $30,000 a year.
‘‘They were looking at options, but it was too much, and they went under.
‘‘If you put support behind [cannabis], New Zealand would be a hang of a lot better off.’’