New Zealand firm Helius Therapeutics has launched a nationwide advertising campaign declaring that “cannabis is medicine” in a bid to transform its reputation in the country.

The campaign has been launched just a few days after New Zealand legalized medicinal cannabis as a draft bill passed a third reading at the House of Representatives. Helius unveiled plans to create New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis cultivation plant back in October, so it was banking on that draft bill passing into law.

It wasted no time in launching a high-profile marketing drive after the country’s politicians voted in favour of the bill last week. “Cannabis is medicine,” declared the ad on the largest billboard in Auckland. “It’s time to tell the truth about medicinal cannabis.”

The billboards have appeared across the country as Helius invested in a nationwide campaign, although it has sparked some grievances. Three people have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, expressing concerns about whether cannabis should be promoted as medicine and whether it is an appropriate ad for children to see such messages.

The ASA’s Hilary Souter said it cannot deal with issues surrounding the medicinal properties of cannabis, but said it will look into the issue of children seeing the billboards.

Advertising guru Paul Manning, experienced businessman JP Schmidt and former Red Bull executive Gavin Pook set up Helius and they served as directors. Manning said the high-profile ad campaign was designed to heighten awareness of medicinal marijuana and remove the stigma associated with it. He poured scorn on the idea that the billboard would encourage children to start smoking weed, arguing that medicinal cannabis will soon become a mainstream, everyday product.

Helius is in the process of creating New Zealand’s largest cannabis cultivation facility after raising NZ$15 million ($9.8 million) in capital. Tech billionaire Guy Haddleton is among the investors and it hopes to be the leading light in the burgeoning New Zealand cannabis trade.

However, it does not yet have any products to sell, so its focus is around research and development, and it plans to boost education among New Zealanders until it has products to take to market.

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