Cultivating a new industry for the BOP
A new primary industry could emerge in Tauranga as a local company teams up with an Australian-based medicinal cannabis company to grow the plant, and research its use as a health product for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
Greenfield MC, a licensed medicinal cannabis importer and distributor in Australia, and Canadian licensed cannabis producer Emerald Plants Heath Source have entered a joint venture with Tauranga-based Wepiha Health Co.
Wepiha Health Co is a newly-created entity led by Maori clinical researchers and academics, agriculturalists and leading pharmacists, which is already engaged in agriculture and health and pharmaceutical services.
Co-founders are Dr Anna Rolleston, a senior research fellow at the University of Auckland and University of Waikato, and a director at Tauranga’s The Centre for Health Ltd; and Rush Wepiha, an internationally recognised indigenous youth mentor who focuses on development of better healthcare and medical education in rural and/or Maori communities.
The venture is being seed funded by Greenfield MC Global, which is currently doing a second series of capital raising; and the venture’s representatives are meeting with prospective landowners to base a cultivation operation and research facility.
Wepiha Health Co co-founder and community cultural relations officer Rush Wepiha says they’re particularly interested in the Tauranga region.
“Our company is named after myself and Anna’s great-great-grandfather Wepiha. We named the company after him because he had a deep connection to the land and he’s passed it down to us.
“Our family has cultivated all types of fruit and vegetables for generations and generations.
“We currently cultivate kiwifruit – all the way from there to Te Puke we have family working in the kiwifruit industry.”
The joint venture’s initial research project will focus on growing certain strains of cannabis under a range of conditions. But then they plan to focus research on looking into the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis for health conditions that disproportionally affect Maori, such as Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, known as T2DM.
Greenfield MC Ltd NZ’s director of research, Dr Anna Rolleston, says in NZ health, disparity for Maori is a key area of focus.
“Once we have cultivation underway in NZ and have completed our initial research project, one of the objectives is to understand how medicinal cannabis could be beneficial to Maori healthcare and how the industry as a whole might support Maori aspirations.”
Rush says they first met with Greenfield MC in March to explain their connection to whenua, to cultivation and that they come from the health space.
“We want to ensure any medicine we make here aligns with our values in Aotearoa. Because it’s such a booming industry we knew it would only be a matter of time before it takes off here. We want to ensure from the beginning it’s on the right track and the people that need this type of medicine – that it gets to them.”
Rush says, understandably, Maori still have negative views of cannabis from the past. “I’m trying to bridge that gap and bring our people up to speed – so we can move forward with this opportunity.
“And who is to say the people of Tauranga can’t be a major player in this industry? I’m all for building the Tauranga economy.”
Greenfield MC directors, who met the Wepiha team in Tauranga mid-September say that Wepiha’s local expertise, knowledge and understanding of patient needs, especially those impacting Maori, make them the ideal partner.
Greenfield MC chairman and president Arjun Chabbra says the venture will construct a state-of-the-art, hybrid glasshouse facility with automated water and climate management systems and on-site scientific testing apparatus. “Security systems and protocols, as well as a deep cannabis genetic bank, are also crucial.”
Arjun says cannabis cultivation for research purposes requires strict growing methodology and practices that place quality control, crop consistency and science at the core of operations. “Part of the cultivation facility will be dedicated to scientific analysis.”
Arjun says Greenfield MC NZ has access to various strains and is presently determining which strains are best suited to NZ grow and climate conditions, as well as the final research project.
“Greenfield MC will be responsible for evolving the joint venture into a commercially viable enterprise that can meet the growing and enduring needs of NZ patients.
“Its deep bench of pharmacists, doctors and researchers will help develop future research projects. Our third partner, EPHS Holdings Inc, will contribute its world-leading cannabis cultivation skills, genetics and project management expertise to ensure the grow facility meets the rigorous demands of NZ’s regulatory bodies, as well as help open up global export markets if and when cultivation for commercial export purposes is permitted.” Arjun says the joint venture will soon apply for licences to cultivate, import and distribute medicinal cannabis. “Cultivation for the purpose of research can proceed now. The new Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is directed towards a commercial regime for medicinal cannabis. Once the scheme is in force, we’ll seek to also cultivate for commercial purposes.”
Wepiha Health Co will lead research and development and eventually guide the conduct of clinical trials, says Arjun. Asked if there are plans to expand offerings in NZ if the November 2020 referendum to legalise a recreational cannabis industry passes, Arjun says Greenfield MC is a medical and healthcare organisation. “Legalisation of adult-use cannabis will open up new revenue streams from the sale of CBD wellness, cosmeceutical and nutraceutical products, including skincare products and food supplements. Those product categories would be our focus.”