Hemp industry aims to break into health and wellness market

A new report estimates the industry could be worth $2 billion a year by 2030.
A new report estimates the industry could be worth $2 billion a year by 2030. Photo credit: Getty

The country's hemp industry is aiming to break into the health and wellness market, and is calling on the Government to introduce a new regulatory framework to make it easier for research and development to go ahead.

A new report released this week by the New Zealand Hemp Industries Association (NZHIA) estimated the sector could be worth up to $2 billion a year by 2030 if New Zealand could position itself to become a niche grower of premium seed and cannabinoid products.

NZHIA chair Richard Barge says although the potential of hemp for food and fibre was already well known, the "tremendous market opportunity" in the health and wellness sector was less so. 

"Given the high inherent qualities of industrial hemp it could really fit into that space quite well," Barge told Dominic George on Rural Today on Tuesday.

Barge said the NZHIA was calling on the Government to introduce a scientifically based regulatory framework for the manufacture, sale, import and export of non-medicine hemp products, and to reclassify CBD "as the wellness cannabinoid that it is". 

Such moves would see a "rapid upsurge in research and development".

Although both medicinal cannabis and the growing of industrial hemp are legal in New Zealand, Barge says there are many other options also available.

"It's access to that market, whereby it's not a medicine but it's a little bit more than a food," he said. 

"So you're moving up that spectrum from food, going to functional foods, natural health products, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals and then you get into that medicinal environment. And at the moment what we've got is regulations that allowed the medicinal use of cannabis but it's therefore then limited to that one medicinal use. Whereas the wellness industry covers a lot of other uses; it could be topicals or balms that help with skin conditions or it could be all the way through to just having a really healthy diet and supplementing those with some of these natural health products that would be using the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids contained in the industrial hemp plant."

He says despite hemp containing over 100 cannabinoids, the focus up to this point has primarily been on THC - the psychoactive element that gets you high - and CBD - which is treated as a prescription medicine.

"As an industry we're knocked on the head by the Misuse of Drugs Act and if one molecule of CBD exists in the product you're now knocked on the head by medicines control.

"We've really got to get to the stage where some of these products could be not prescription-only, but accepted to be an over-the-counter product at certain doses."

The report, written by Dr Nick Marsh, said the current approach, "which ignores low-CBD non-medicinal products", "creates a maze which industry members are finding increasingly difficult to navigate". 

It called for a "cooperative exploration involving industry members and regulators of cannabis and hemp related products, the appropriate level of regulation to apply to those products, and a plan to amend existing law and possibly create new laws to facilitate the production, sale and export of hemp products".