Passing of Medicinal Cannabis Bill prompts iwi discussions

By Talisa Kupenga

The only Māori company with a medicinal cannabis growing licence says the passing of the government's medicinal cannabis bill is a step in the right direction.  Hikurangi Enterprises Managing Director Panapa Ehau says New Zealand could be a world leader in the medicinal cannabis space.

"If whānau Māori or whānau that are in this industry are put at the centre of this, which there's a good chance that will happen, it's going to create a whole lot of opportunities both economic and in the well-being space for our people."

New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says the bill's passing will prompt big discussions among iwi, especially given the harm cannabis has caused in some communities.

"There are big questions iwi have to have around what they think about cannabis in their community and if we're having a regulated market, what is their role in that market?  Do iwi want to have licenses?  Do they want to get engaged in a legal cannabis market?”

Ehau says, "I think the way forward is for iwi looking into this space is that they need to educate themselves on what the opportunity is.  What we've found is that the iwi that have done that do see an opportunity and are moving into that space."

Bell has concerns that Hikurangi Cannabis is the only Māori company of the four granted growing licences with a community-centred rather than a profit-driven approach. 

Ehau says Māori won't be left behind.

"It is not about us popping our head up and having all the benefits for ourselves.  It's about how the whole industry and whānau Māori are looked after and become predominant players in the industry as it develops."

The bill provides a legal defence for the smoking of illicit cannabis for those close to death to ease suffering and for the establishment of a scheme for a regulated market that includes locally grown medicinal products.