Sun rising on Ruatoria hemp industry

HARVEST TIME: Some of the 5000 hemp plants grown last summer for Hikurangi Enterprises’ hemp trial in Ruatoria. More are being grown this summer, with a view to selecting a plant with favourable medicinal characteristics. Pictures by Manu Caddie

THE BUDS are ripening for a Ruatoria hemp industry as production steps up and the potential for it to be New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis capital moves a step closer.

Hikurangi Enterprises last year planted a trial of 5000 plants as a field crop.

This season the Ruatoria charitable company is working with a group of 15 other growers and landowners in the region.

The group is growing another 5000 individual plants but want only one.

The plant they select will be the “mother” plant for what could be a global “hempire” based on a new medicine from hemp.

The company has been in talks this month with the Ministry of Health about medicinal cannabis trials using the low-THC cannabis it has been growing under an industrial hemp license.

The hope is to be granted the first licence to grow cannabis for medicine in New Zealand, subject to meeting strict government requirements for manufacturing medicines based on international standards.

“The MedSafe staff were very helpful, expressed support for what we are trying to do and have given us a clear set of requirements to achieve our goal that we now know is doable,” said business development manager Manu Caddie.

“We are excited with what we have been able to achieve with huge community support.

“We are a group of dreamers trying to establish a pharmaceutical company in an old wool shed and build a new export industry from scratch in Ruatoria. It is a big challenge but we are up for it.”

The first stage of the trial is intended to prove the product’s safety. They will then investigate its effectiveness in treating a range of health conditions.

“It should be effective for conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, anxiety and some pain conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis,” he said.

“We expect it will be superior in quality and more affordable than any imported products.”

Cheaper local alternative

Imported product Sativex costs up to $1400 a bottle. Mr Caddie hopes theirs will retail for about $150 and be on the market in 2019.

To get there, however, they need to meet a long list of compliance requirements aligned to international standards for cultivating plants to be used in medicine, processing plant material, extraction of active compounds, manufacturing of medicines and gold standard clinical trial protocols.

If all goes according to plan they hope to start the trials by April and have the results for the first stage by the end of the year.

Managing director Panapa Ehau said their current focus was on increasing capacity and developing a consistent supply.

“Last year’s trial was more about seeing what we could do and developing relationships, to see if it was possible to have industrial hemp in the region.

“It has been really positive. There are more whanau who want come on board and people around the country are asking for advice.”

They also looked into the market, where they saw an opportunity in medicinal cannabis.

“This year the focus is on maximising what we can get out of each plant and establishing a continuity of supply.

“For medicinal grade cannabis, we have to be able deliver the same thing on a consistent basis.”

While last year the plants were left to grow relatively unattended, this year all 5000 plants are being grown individually in a nursery in a semi-controlled environment, with regular watering, pruning and monitoring.

They are also working on a breeding programme with a Crown Research Institute to develop optimal hemp strains.

With a number of whanau around Ruatoria coming on board, the long-term idea is to have a centralised processing facility with associated growers, akin to a co-operative.

“We can have central processing, marketing and produce niche products for different whanau.”

Mr Caddie said the company had engaged corporate finance company Northington Partners to look for an institutional investor early in the new year. They would also offer people an opportunity to buy shares in a local investment vehicle dedicated to supporting the various ventures Hikurangi Enterprises had established, including the medical cannabis company.

THE BUDS are ripening for a Ruatoria hemp industry as production steps up and the potential for it to be New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis capital moves a step closer.

Hikurangi Enterprises last year planted a trial of 5000 plants as a field crop.

This season the Ruatoria charitable company is working with a group of 15 other growers and landowners in the region.

The group is growing another 5000 individual plants but want only one.

The plant they select will be the “mother” plant for what could be a global “hempire” based on a new medicine from hemp.

The company has been in talks this month with the Ministry of Health about medicinal cannabis trials using the low-THC cannabis it has been growing under an industrial hemp license.

The hope is to be granted the first licence to grow cannabis for medicine in New Zealand, subject to meeting strict government requirements for manufacturing medicines based on international standards.

“The MedSafe staff were very helpful, expressed support for what we are trying to do and have given us a clear set of requirements to achieve our goal that we now know is doable,” said business development manager Manu Caddie.

“We are excited with what we have been able to achieve with huge community support.

“We are a group of dreamers trying to establish a pharmaceutical company in an old wool shed and build a new export industry from scratch in Ruatoria. It is a big challenge but we are up for it.”

The first stage of the trial is intended to prove the product’s safety. They will then investigate its effectiveness in treating a range of health conditions.

“It should be effective for conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, anxiety and some pain conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis,” he said.

“We expect it will be superior in quality and more affordable than any imported products.”

Cheaper local alternative

Imported product Sativex costs up to $1400 a bottle. Mr Caddie hopes theirs will retail for about $150 and be on the market in 2019.

To get there, however, they need to meet a long list of compliance requirements aligned to international standards for cultivating plants to be used in medicine, processing plant material, extraction of active compounds, manufacturing of medicines and gold standard clinical trial protocols.

If all goes according to plan they hope to start the trials by April and have the results for the first stage by the end of the year.

Managing director Panapa Ehau said their current focus was on increasing capacity and developing a consistent supply.

“Last year’s trial was more about seeing what we could do and developing relationships, to see if it was possible to have industrial hemp in the region.

“It has been really positive. There are more whanau who want come on board and people around the country are asking for advice.”

They also looked into the market, where they saw an opportunity in medicinal cannabis.

“This year the focus is on maximising what we can get out of each plant and establishing a continuity of supply.

“For medicinal grade cannabis, we have to be able deliver the same thing on a consistent basis.”

While last year the plants were left to grow relatively unattended, this year all 5000 plants are being grown individually in a nursery in a semi-controlled environment, with regular watering, pruning and monitoring.

They are also working on a breeding programme with a Crown Research Institute to develop optimal hemp strains.

With a number of whanau around Ruatoria coming on board, the long-term idea is to have a centralised processing facility with associated growers, akin to a co-operative.

“We can have central processing, marketing and produce niche products for different whanau.”

Mr Caddie said the company had engaged corporate finance company Northington Partners to look for an institutional investor early in the new year. They would also offer people an opportunity to buy shares in a local investment vehicle dedicated to supporting the various ventures Hikurangi Enterprises had established, including the medical cannabis company.

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