Medicinal cannabis will deliver despite referendum failure

While the referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis may have fallen short, help is still on the way patients counting on the plant’s therapeutic properties, says New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics.



New Zealand has voted against legalising the personal use of cannabis. The preliminary results released at 2pm on Friday shows 53.1% of votes against the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, and 46.1% in support.


The referendum results are still preliminary. There are 480,000 special votes, around 17% of the total votes, which will not be released until Friday November 6. A turnaround is possible but considered unlikely by analysts as nearly 70% of the outstanding votes would have to be in support to affect a change.


While the referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis may have fallen short, help is still on the way for patients counting on the plant’s therapeutic properties, says New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics.


“At this time, there are still access issues surrounding medicinal cannabis, with cost being one of the greatest barriers. So, a lot of patients were hoping the referendum would pass and provide affordable access to cannabis products for wellness purposes,” says Paul Manning, co-founder of Helius Therapeutics.


Despite New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme taking effect in April, with an overall ambition to improve access for patients, only expensive overseas products are currently available via prescription. Meanwhile, the local industry is still in its establishment phase.


“The high cost of imported medicinal cannabis products continues to be a real challenge for patients. Fortunately, the country’s new Medicinal Cannabis Scheme was enacted in April, giving way to the formation of a local industry. Kiwi companies are now gearing up to produce more affordable New Zealand-made cannabis medicines by mid next year”.

Had the referendum been successful, the parliamentary process for enacting the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill would have likely taken up to two years, meaning cannabis would not have been available until 2022.


“By that time, local companies will have high-quality local cannabis medicines in the market, helping to drive down prices for patients,” he says.

Helius is unlocking the therapeutic potential of cannabis to improve quality of life

Mr Manning says with Helius Therapeutics squarely focused on prescription medicines and wellness products, its business model was never predicated on personal use cannabis being legalised. However, he suspects some smaller medicinal cannabis businesses would’ve been counting on the referendum passing to secure their commercial viability.


“Sadly, I think we’ll now see retrenchment in some corners of the industry as a result of the referendum failing. Regardless, the country’s nascent medicinal cannabis industry will continue to grow in importance – both in public health and economic terms,” he says.

While Helius believed the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill represented an economic opportunity, New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme will still create up to half a billion dollars of economic benefit, including valuable export earnings.


“It’s unfortunate New Zealand cannot take advantage of the revenue and job creation that the legalisation bill would’ve created. Nonetheless, our medicinal cannabis industry is already having a significant impact when it comes to employment, innovation and R&D advances, along with growing economic and tax contributions.”

With the referendum now behind us, the country’s next cannabis milestone is the sold-out MedCan Summit 2020 – New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis conference. Taking place on the 9th and 10th of November at Auckland’s Aotea Centre, Helius Therapeutics is the Foundation Sponsor.


© Helius Therapeutics 2018