Calls for cannabis green light

South Waikato News - - Rural Delivery - CHAR­LIE MITCHELL

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.’’

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