Cannabis breeders in Aotearoa have been cultivating and breeding plants at considerable risk for decades. Thousands of people have been arrested and imprisoned for many years, lost personal possessions, been subject to physical harm and in some cases people have lost their lives as a result of conflict over cannabis crops.
A unique opportunity now presents itself in the form of the Government passing legislation that will enable plant material grown in New Zealand to be used by licensed medicinal cannabis cultivators. There are a range of risks for everyone involved in potential arrangements and the details of how government see the provision working have not been finalised but these proposals offer a couple of options for breeders and bureaucrats to consider.
Issues & Motivation for Breeders
Breeders we have spoken to have a range of reasons and varying levels of interest in supplying their plant material and the knowledge associated with the plants into a commercial context heavily regulated by government. The feedback breeders have given so far can be summarised in the following groups and some are interested in combinations of these options:
- a one off payment based on supply of seeds (and maybe information/advice about the cultivars);
- an ongoing royalty payment for any genetics that are commercialised;
- employment in a licensed cultivation and breeding operation to continue working with the plants with access to more sophisticated breeding and testing technologies;
- no payment, simply a handover to ensure the cultivars are maintained and developed further.
Primary Purpose of Provision in Legislation: To enable licensed medicinal cannabis cultivators to access high THC plants faster than importing.
Other Opportunities the Provision Offers:
- Enables illicit breeders to come into a legal framework and provide opportunities for the legal commercialisation of local genetics and knowledge.
- Enables licensed cultivators to access potentially unique local genetics.
- Enables strains that have been at risk of extinction to be maintained.
Lessons from Overseas:
- Some states require vertical integration, so no opportunity for breeders to be separate from licensed producers and distributors.
- Health Canada is opening an application portal for breeders to register, declare their strains, pay security fee, get their plant material assessed and if granted a licence they can sell to other licence holders. This creates a bottleneck. Breeders may not meet the licence eligibility criteria and will have outed themselves to authorities in the process. The security fee starts at $5,000 and the process requires the provision of significant information from each breeder.
Potential Barriers in Aotearoa:
- Most illicit breeders don’t trust the Crown/government agencies, especially not with their plants and knowledge.
- Breeders may not trust companies and/or may be vulnerable to being taken advantage of if they are still in a grey/illicit situation while the company has legislative power via license and money to trade for access to plants and knowledge
- Many breeders wish to remain anonymous.
- The referendum on recreational use in 2020 may mean illicit breeders choose to retain control of their cultivars rather than allow them to be used for medicinal products with a view to commercialising them if/when NZ fully legalises cannabis.
Any scheme must comply with Plant Variety Rights Act amendments and WAI 262 obligations on the Crown – NOTE: s18 exception to PVR provisional rights. The PVR amendment review is currently underway with the draft bill not programmed to be before Parliament until 2020. This will mean that whatever system is implemented under the MOH will need to anticipate and comply with the new PVR Act.