Hopes medicinal cannabis be the next sauvignon blanc for Kaikoura and Marlborough

Could medicinal cannabis be the next sauvignon blanc for Kaikoura and the Marlborough region?

The harvest of New Zealand's biggest medicinal cannabis farm is set to begin on Monday and it brings with it a promise of a major boost to the local economy.

The stunning eastern coastline and rolling hills have been the bread and butter for Kaikoura's tourism and Marlborough's wine industry. 

But look closer and there's a newcomer in town. Ten rugby fields full of organic cannabis plants are ripe for picking and promising big export returns to the region.

"I think it's unlimited, estimates in the hundreds of millions of dollars," says Primary Industries Minister Damien O'Connor.

Medicinal cannabis was legalised in 2017. A traditional sheep and beef farm in Kekerengu was handpicked for its long daylight hours and fertile soil soon after.

Experts are comparing it to California's 'Green Triangle' and believe it could take off quickly.

"We are also latitudinally opposite from Hombolt county in California and we have seen the effect of their sunlight hours and their summer season on cannabis and so we are taking lessons from there and applying it to this microclimate," says Puro co-founder Tom Forrest.

The 51,000 premium CBD cannabis plants are picked annually then hung to dry, trimmed, packaged and distributed throughout New Zealand and abroad.

Backed by a $13 million grant from the Government - with the goal of employing 200 full-time workers in the coming years - business groups and locals couldn't be happier.

"For me it is a game-changer, it's something that is, for the two regions Marlborough and Kaikoura, a major impact for the local economies," says Marlborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Pete Coldwell.

The global medicinal cannabis market is worth an estimated $28 billion and growing rapidly. Experts say this new industry has the potential to become the region's biggest exporter.

"It's absolutely huge, so I look at that and I look at the scale that this can get to and it can certainly compete against wine and aquaculture and tourism for our regions, definitely," Coldwell adds.

After years of earthquake recovery and COVID border closures, it's a competition both Marlborough and Kaikoura are pleased to be a part of.