An advertising campaign has launched in New Zealand rebranding cannabis as a medicine.
Helius Theraputics, New Zealand's largest licenced medicinal cannabis producer, and one of only three in the country, is running billboards throughout the nation's main centres with newspaper advertisements scheduled in the New Year.
"Our current focus is on research and developing cannabis therapeutics. We have no products to sell right now, but it is our responsibility to use the resources we have to provide education," said executive director Paul Manning.
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"Cannabis needs a rebrand. Despite over 80 percent of Kiwis supporting widespread access to cannabis for medicinal purposes, we still have a job to do when it comes to addressing stigma."
The rebranding campaign launched on Monday morning with the switching on of central Auckland's largest digital billboard on the corner of Anzac Ave and Beach Rd, along with other sites across the country.
Last week the Government passed a medicinal cannabis bill that promises a regulated market for the product as well as a legal defence for users who are close to death.
The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed its third reading in Parliament last Tuesday afternoon, with the support of Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party.
The medicinal cannabis scheme will allow New Zealand companies like Helius to manufacture it. With the country's regulatory environment changing, Helius says it's now moving ahead to research and develop new cannabis-based therapeutics.
Under the headline 'Cannabis is medicine' the Helius campaign features eight New Zealanders including patients, advocates, entrepreneurs, and parents, who "each have their own story to tell," says Mr Manning.
Emmelene Pryce, a mother whose child suffers from epilepsy, features in the campaign, alongside New Zealand Fashion Week founder Myken Stewart, who suffers from endometriosis. It will also include Zambesi founder and medicinal cannabis supporter Neville Findlay.
"Just like the passionate Kiwis in our campaign, we will again need people to have their say in the coming months on the pending regulations and scheme for medicinal cannabis," said Mr Manning.
"The [medicinal cannabis] bill may have passed but the process is by no means over, with the manual now to be written."
The Government's original medicinal cannabis bill was apparently lacking and National released a comprehensive alternative. The Government then proposed changes to the original bill last month, including making access to it wider and faster.
Health Minister Dr David Clark praised the work of the three coalition parties in passing the legislation within a year of announcing it. He said medicinal cannabis products will be made available on prescription.
Recreational cannabis is the next big topic under the drugs umbrella, as the Green Party was promised a referendum on legalising it at or by the 2020 election as part of their coalition agreement with Labour.