New Zealand cannabis scheme on schedule for April launch despite COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe is not expected to affect the initial launch of New Zealand’s medical cannabis scheme, which is set to take effect April 1, a government official told Marijuana Business Daily.

Other jurisdictions – notably Mexico – have pending cannabis industry legislation that faces near-certain delay because of measures taken to combat COVID-19.

New Zealand finalized the regulatory foundation for its medical cannabis sector in December, making a key concession by not requiring specialist approval for prescriptions.

The country is going to rely on imports to meet local demand, creating short-term export opportunities for businesses in countries with functional regulatory regimes, such as Canada and the Netherlands.

Near-term opportunities will exist for partnerships with New Zealand’s researchers and entrepreneurs in areas such as genetics, robotics and lighting as well as to transfer or collaborate on technology, according to industry sources.

Processing delay?

The COVID-19 pandemic is not expected to affect key dates for the medicinal cannabis scheme, Chris James, group manager of Medsafe at the Ministry of Health, told MJBizDaily.

Medsafe is responsible for the regulation of therapeutic products.

License application forms and guidance material will be available starting around April 1.

The Medicinal Cannabis Agency will also begin accepting license applications at that time.

The agency has put in place temporary working arrangements as a result of COVID-19, including:

  • Implementing travel limitations.
  • Not accepting any hard-copy license applications.

James said application processing times might be affected. However, the agency is developing a plan to limit any possible disruption.

All Medicinal Cannabis Agency staff are currently working from home as part of the government’s social-distancing measures, a spokesman wrote in an email to MJBizDaily.

“The likely impact of COVID-19 on import/export supply chains and manufacturing capacity for medicinal cannabis products is not clear,” James said.

Application process

The Medicinal Cannabis Agency plans to assess each application it receives on a case-by-case basis.

“The scale of the proposed operation is just one of several factors considered in the assessment of the adequacy of the security arrangements,” James said.

Other considerations will include, but are not limited to:

  • The THC levels of any cannabis on-site.
  • The scope and nature of the operation.
  • The types of products that will be produced.
  • The amount of cannabis to be stored at the location.

The agency expects it will take about three months to process an application once all necessary information has been provided and the application fee has been paid.

However, that time assessment was pre-pandemic, so processing time might take longer.

The three-month estimate includes the time needed to:

  • Determine the eligibility of the applicant and any responsible persons.
  • Assess the information on how the applicant proposes to manage the operation.
  • Consider the proposed security arrangements for the locations covered by the license.
  • Carry out an on-site inspection of each location to verify the security arrangements are in operational.
  • Any further assessments or inspections needed after the applicant addresses any identified issues.

James said an initial check of the application will occur to ensure it appears to be complete and in order.

“The initial check does not include assessing the details of an application and won’t have a significant impact on the overall time frame for determining the application,” he said.

Information on the licenses that will be available in April is available here.

A referendum will be held later this year on adult-use legalization.

Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]aily.com.

For more of Marijuana Business Daily’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the cannabis industry, click here.

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