The New Zealand government has announced a NZ$32 million partnership with medicinal cannabis grower Puro in a bid to build a sector that matches the country’s wine industry.

The project will run from 2022 to 2027, with the government contributing $13m via the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, and Puro contributing the rest. 

Puro managing director Tim Aldridge and cultivation director Tom Forrest with NZ agriculture minister Damien O’Connor

The funds will be used to help the Marlborough-based firm fast-track the establishment of an organic medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand.

Matatihi Economic Research has calculated the project could add up to $236m to the nation’s coffers in the next 10 years.

Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said: “Now is the perfect time to grow this high-value industry, as international demand for medicinal cannabis takes off while New Zealand is amid an export boom.” 

“The $32.2 million joint project will further support the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19, providing jobs and growth in our regional economies.

“[It] will bring significant scale to this new industry, providing domestically sourced medicinal cannabis for Kiwi patients in pain and exciting export opportunities in a global growth market, providing further diversification of land use.”

O’Connor: medicinal cannabis industry will help the country build back after Covid

Puro will develop unique cultivars and seed stock, as well as a production handbook that will be available to the wider industry. 

O’Connor added: “This will fast-track the industry’s establishment in New Zealand and create a comprehensive blueprint that other Kiwi companies can use to follow in Puro’s footsteps.

“We expect this funding to create significant job opportunities in rural communities, boosting local economies in Marlborough and Kāikoura over the five years. There will be jobs in research and development, cultivation, business development, construction and facilities management, which could attract more people to the regions.

“We’re proud to support the medicinal cannabis industry as it sets out to follow in the footsteps of our wine industry which, from first planting on a commercial scale in the 1970s, has now reached over $2billion in export value.”

Founded in 2018, Puro harvested its first organic crop of medicinal cannabis last year. 

Managing director Tim Aldridge described the grant as a “gamechanger” that will provide New Zealand patients with greater access to locally grown and manufactured medicine and pave the way for international export success.

Under the agreement, Puro will develop production systems, support skills and training, explore contract growing and identify pathways to market for industry growth. 

Aldridge added: “Being one of New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis companies has meant we’ve had to overcome some major challenges – it hasn’t been easy. This program will see us create an organic production handbook that will be invaluable for Puro and our industry.

“The grant will support Puro in developing post-harvesting processing technology and build the IP required to produce premium organic cannabis flower to meet increasing domestic and global demand.”

It will also enable the company to develop unique cultivars and seed stock.

“Our cultivation team are researching and developing the strains of medicinal cannabis best suited for New Zealand’s unique climate,” said Aldridge.

“The grant will see the acceleration of a large genetic database of cultivars to support the industry and differentiate our cannabis products in global markets”. 

Auckland-based processor and manufacturer Helius Therapeutics said it will work alongside Puro on research and development and the creation of an organic manufacturing road map.

Chief executive Carmen Doran said: “Our ambition is to take Puro’s organically produced, high-value biomass and manufacture it in New Zealand to organic certification.” 

In January, the two firms signed a deal for Puro to supply Helius with more than 10 tonnes of organic medicinal cannabis over the next five years.

Welcoming the announcement, New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Council (NZMCC) chair Steve Wilson said: “The announcement of this large-scale industry development project is an exceptional example of government and business working together at a critical time for our sector as we prepare for a significant export opportunity.

“Puro operates at the forefront of organic and best-practice cultivation. Its collaborative approach to develop and fast track research programs will provide real and long-lasting benefits to all New Zealand cultivators, medicines manufacturers and, as a result, the economy.”

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...