The cannabis referendum has the potential to spark an economic boom for New Zealand, and international sports supplements companies are clawing for their share of the pie.
A recent poll showed 48 per cent of Kiwis would support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, compared to 43 per cent who were opposed.
If the referendum was passed, it would mean the government could introduce a bill.
If passed into law, it could give the green light for sports and health supplements, derived from cannabis, to be sold over the counter.
That could open the floodgates on a new multi-million dollar industry, and international Cannabidiol (CBD) companies are already establishing footholds in preparation.
The US state of Colorado, which has a similar population to New Zealand and has had legal cannabis since 2012, received $199 million in revenue in 2017 from cannabis sales of $1.3 billion.
CBD oil specifically is used by athletes around the world as a natural alternative to opioids, and presents its own lucrative opportunity.
It’s typically taken orally and designed to be absorbed under the tongue, with prices ranging from roughly $35-190.
Companies selling it claim it helps treat pain and inflammation, without the addictive properties of traditional pain killers.
It’s also used by some to treat anxiety, to support weight loss and for cancer management.
Companies such as CBD Oil New Zealand, Pure Sport CBD and Blessed CBD have already started to establish themselves here.
Pure Sport CBD is endorsed by the likes of former All Blacks Liam Messam, Jerome Kaino, Waisake Naholo, Colin Slade and Victor Vito.
And UK company Blessed CBD recently inked partnerships with Kiwi UFC champion Israel Adesanya and Australian champion Alexander Volkanovski.
Research commissioned by the NZ Drug Foundation, and carried out by economist Shamubeel Eaqub from Sense Partners, said New Zealand could be $86m a year better off in “societal gains”, if cannabis was legalised.
Pure Sport CBD co-founder Grayson Hart said New Zealand represented an untapped market for the industry, and Kiwis should expect to see plenty more companies pop up come referendum time.
In the past year alone (July 1, 2019 – July 2020), more than 22 cannabis-related companies have registered with the New Zealand companies office.
“Many (CBD) brands are trying to get in the eye line of Kiwis by getting sponsoring local athletes, in the hope that they can establish themselves as first to market if/when the legislation changes,” Hart said.
“Being Kiwi born and raised myself, it’s been a dream of mine from day one to get Pure Sport CBD off the ground in New Zealand.”
Hart has played professional rugby for more than a decade, including stints with the Blues and Waratahs before his move to the UK.
He launched Pure Sport CBD in 2019 and said he was not surprised by the increase in CBD athlete endorsements, adding he was often contacted by players, once they leave New Zealand, curious about the products.
CBD oil is widely used by UFC, NFL and NBA athletes in America.
Like anything derived from the cannabis plant, there will be strict regulations and standards the products must meet before being sold, Hart anticipated.
The 31-year-old said those regulations had slipped offshore, and he hoped New Zealand wouldn’t make similar mistakes if a law is passed.
“In UK and the US, regulations are not great so there are a lot of really low quality CBD brands around and the customers not getting a great experience,” Hart said.
Across the US and UK there are varying age restrictions on exactly who can buy CBD products, though most reputable companies limit sales to those above the age of 18.
In the UK, products can only be sold if they contain no more than trace amounts (more than 0.2%) of THC, a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Pure Sport CBD was the first CBD brand globally to be certified by the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG).
Currently, in New Zealand, personal importation of CBD products are not permitted.
Companies trying to bring products in require a special licence issued under the Medicines Act 1981, but a medicinal cannabis licence is not required.
If a law is passed, CBD oil could be widely available online and over the counter at specific CBD shops and health stores nationwide, Hart said.