Biotechnology firm Helius Therapeutics has unveiled plans to create New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis cultivation plant in southeast Auckland.

All marijuana use is outlawed in New Zealand under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, but an amendment bill filed earlier this year seeks to improve access to medicinal cannabis. The bill has garnered broad support from the country’s MPs and a law change is expected next year to permit medicinal cannabis supply and use. Helius Therapeutics is banking on that law going through as it aims to have its facility producing cannabis soon and selling domestically and exporting by mid-2020.

The 1ha property will be used for cultivation, extraction, research, and manufacturing by Helius Technologies, New Zealand’s first medicinal marijuana firm. It hopes to “set the standard” for cannabis production in the country. “We’re operating in one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and this property underscores our commitment to leading this market in New Zealand,” said the company’s co-founder, JP Schmidt.

Schmidt worked in the private equity and property investment sectors before setting up Helius with former Red Bull executive Gavin Pook and advertising guru Paul Manning. They received a huge boost earlier this month when entrepreneur Guy Haddleton, who is on New Zealand’s Rich List invested NZ$15 million ($9.66 million) in the firm. Haddleton took a 40% stake in the firm and he now acts as chairman, while Schmidt, Pook, and Manning each own 20% of Helius.

New Zealand is set to hold a referendum on whether it should legalize cannabis for recreational use by 2020.

Plans are now accelerating to make it a market leader in the New Zealand cannabis industry, and it hopes to steal a march on potential rivals by beginning construction before the law has even changed. The plant will be capable of growing 140,000 plants and producing 50 tonnes of cannabis per year. Helius has the option to expand, as there is an additional 6,500 sq. m. next door that it has the option to take on.

Agents CBRE brokered the deal for the facility and director Claus Brewer said his firm took inspiration from manufacturing plants in Colorado and California. “This latest deal highlights just how prevalent medicinal cannabis and biotech industries could be in the tightly held market here in the future,” he said.

New Zealand is set to hold a referendum on whether it should legalize cannabis for recreational use by 2020. The Labour Party and the Greens are both backing it, so advocates are confident it will go through. The country’s police force has made it the focus of its annual conference, taking place this week. Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis jetting in to offer his expertise, and the conference will examine issues like driving under the influence of cannabis.

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