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Could legal cannabis transform provincial New Zealand?

Source : stuff.co.nz

South Canterbury is a place of cool temperatures and conservative values.

It produces sheep, tourism dollars and hydroelectric power. Why not cannabis?

In March, Sir Richard Branson suggested New Zealand could use some of the land currently trodden by dairy cows to cultivate cannabis and make a killing – all while reducing our carbon footprint. Federated Farmers reacted positively. And why not? Huge cannabis cultivation facilities are opening in the United States to supply the burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry.

David Musgrave sells hemp oil products through his business, Waihi Bush, which he operates out of the South Canterbury town of Geraldine.

David Musgrave, an industrial hemp grower from South Canterbury.
David Musgrave, an industrial hemp grower from South Canterbury.


He’s been a lifelong campaigner for the legalisation of hemp products and foodstuffs and reckons New Zealand needs to get on with drug reform if the country means to profit from it.

“Tasmania was the first Australian state to start growing opium poppies” he said.

He is already planning to plant a hemp crop low in THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient that causes the high from marijuana, in November. This plan comes after the Government legalised the sale of low THC hemp food products in April.

Musgrave plans to make boutique food products from this crop, including a gourmet flour made from hemp.

He explains that industrial hemp crops would not be grown alongside recreational cannabis crops. If they were, the different species would breed and cross pollinate, compromising the industrial and psychoactive properties of each strain.

According to Musgrave, most recreational cannabis would therefore be grown in greenhouses, so the THC purity of strains are not compromised.

South Canterbury Arable Section chairman Mike Porter represents farmers of grains and other crops within South Canterbury. He believes most farmers would be open to experimenting with the crop.

Cannabis would grow easily in the region’s temperate climate, mostly in greenhouse and hydroponic facilities.

But Porter worries about the productivity of workers using the stuff.

Workers showing up high for shifts is an already an issue for South Canterbury farmers. If it was legalised, he’s worried it would get worse.

And farmers would be anxious about securing their crops from thieves, needing security teams and facilities for protection.

So the vision of fields of cannabis replacing fields of wheat and barley is probably a bit off.

Some have doubts even about limited cultivation.

Mark Adams is a beef and sheep farmer who operates a property near the country town of Fairlie, in the highlands of the South Canterbury region.

South Canterbury has a “very traditional” agricultural industry, he says. Most local farmers would be unwilling to experiment with growing cannabis due to ethical concerns about the impact on society.

Like Porter, Adams says significant numbers of South Canterbury agricultural workers arrive for shifts under the influence of the drug. This can be especially dangerous in situations where workers are operating trucks and heavy machinery.

“We’re capitalists and we’re very commercially focused, but we do have a social conscience.”

Farmers might be more willing if they could guarantee the final use of their crop was for either industrial or medicinal purposes, Adams says.

The mood is similar among farmers in other parts of the country.

Northland Federated Farmers president John Blackwell, while personally opposed to recreational cannabis legalisation, believes many farmers would start growing cannabis if it were legal.

“I imagine farmers, under economic advantage, would grow any crop if it were allowed under the law” he said.

“The black market might dissapear.”

He’s particularly supportive of crops for medicinal cannabis, saying it would be positive for New Zealand farmers and the country as a whole.

Taranaki Federated Farmers president Donald McIntyre believes a cannabis cultivation industry would develop if the crop were legalised, to service demand for cannabis use in private homes.

“It would probably be grown in areas such as Nelson, where growing conditions are ideal” he says.


Two regional mayors, well-acquainted with the social harms associated with illicit drugs, are less equivocal.

Meng Foon, the mayor of the regional North Island town of Gisborne, is strongly opposed to recreational cannabis legalisation.

Foon regards cannabis use, and drug use in general, as something to be stamped out in his community.

He worries about drug legalisation, and is not sure how he would react if cannabis were legalised.

“I think cannabis legalisation would be disastrous,” he says.

Foon compares cannabis to “legal highs” such as ‘Zeus’ and ‘Spice’, which were banned in New Zealand in 2014.

“Legal highs” are drugs designed to mirror the effects of cannabis. They consist of smokable green plant matter, sprayed with a combination of chemicals. More often than not, they deliver a much stronger and longer high than cannabis, and have much more dangerous side effects.

Foon says legal highs had a disastrous impact on his community, and believes cannabis legalisation would be similar. He does, however, support medicinal cannabis legalisation if crops are “strictly controlled” and securely grown.

Oamaru mayor Gary Kircher also does not support recreational cannabis legalisation. However, he is not so much anti-cannabis as cautious about drugs in general.

Kircher regards alcohol as an example of a legal drug that does significant social damage, and does not think legalisation of recreational cannabis would change things for the better in Oamaru.

He is willing to concede that the town might benefit, however.

Oamaru would cope with recreational cannabis legalisation, he says, and some businesses might even benefit.

“In some respects, there’s opportunities for certain businesses in Oamaru,” Kircher says.

“The tourism industry would benefit.”

Even David Musgrave, the industrial hemp advocate from South Canterbury, expressed a degree of unease about about recreational cannabis legalisation.

“One of my sons became addicted to it (cannabis), and it seriously affected his mental health” Musgrave says.

“He started it as a teenager when he left school, and that majorly impacted on his brain function.

“By the time he managed to get off it, he had lost a lot of his short term memory and some of his longer term memory.

“But that said, is it much worse than alcohol? I’m not sure that it is.”

Could legal cannabis transform provincial New Zealand?