Patrick Gower learns how to grow cannabis at Ruatoria

Cannabis company Hikurangi Cannabis Company is out to change Ruatoria's bad reputation - and offer a path forward for Māori.

It has set up a cannabis growing course at the local polytech to help get people ready for a possible future in the cannabis industry.

Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower went along to the growing course to see what's going on.

The classroom is full of students eager to learn - although many already have previous experience growing marijuana.

"I'm hoping that I learn some new skills today," Gower says, "Haven't done a lot of undercover cannabis growing like a lot of youse."

Patrick Gower on the course.
Patrick Gower on the course. Photo credit: Newshub

"I enjoy this course, but my plants at home are better!" one woman says to laughter.

The people on the course see it both as a way of getting both good legal jobs and as a way of helping their community.

"I've been growing the ganja for a while and just trying to get some employment in with our people and our kids," one heavily tattooed man says.

This man hopes the course will give him a job.
This man hopes the course will give him a job. Photo credit: Newshub

"I joined this course because I believe that we're not only just growing a plant itself, I think we're growing opportunities, and with that hopefully will come employment for our people and hopefully bring us out of the darkness into the light," one person says.

"I'm hoping when Hikurangi becomes established that everyone who's done this course can get a job with them so we can all share the knowledge that we know. Because all of us here know something about marijuana," another says.

Recent course graduate Brandon Veevers has been growing cannabis ever since he was a teenager - giving him 33 years of hands-on experience. 

"It's something that I'd good at. I know I'm bloody good at it," he tells Gower.

"A lot of people look at you when they find out 'oh you're just a crim'. [But] I'm not a criminal. I never saw myself as a criminal. It's been more of a means to put extra on the table and provide more for my kids."

 Brandon Veevers is the head grower.
Brandon Veevers is the head grower. Photo credit: Newshub

Now that he's gone legit, Veevers is the head grower for Hikurangi. And he has no desire to return to growing for the black market.

"Shit, you try and live your life looking over your shoulder all the bloody time, waiting for somebody to bust your door in at five in the morning while your kids are asleep. It sucks," he says.

"I can't go and illegally grow anymore. Well, that's sweet with me. I'm making good money. I've got a job. I'm not gonna go and do something stupid to jeopardise my job."

Plants growing at the course.
Plants growing at the course. Photo credit: Newshub

Veevers was fortunate to escape a conviction during his time as an illegal grower, however many other Māori weren't lucky. A big question facing New Zealand is people with low-level marijuana convictions can be involved in this new legal industry.

Veevers says these convictions need to be wiped and people who had them allowed to work in this area.

"We do have too many Māori locked up in prisons for bullshit offences concerning cannabis, and it's got to stop," he says. "At the end of the day, all they wanted was to provide for their families."

You can watch the full documentary on ThreeNow.