Soon, Kiwis Will Be Able to Get Qualified in Growing Cannabis
A new cerificate aims to prepare students for a coming boom in the medicinal marijuana market.
Photos: Thomas Teutenberg
From mid-year, New Zealanders will finally have the opportunity to get their degree in pot-growing. Or, at the very least, a 20-week course on growing hemp. As of June 2018 that dream seems a lot closer with a course run by Panapa Ehau, managing director for Hikurangi Enterprises, the company looking to be the first set-up to grow New Zealand’s medical cannabis.
With only 15 spots in the course, and 500 plus people expressing interest online, it seems there will be a waitlist for some time.
The Level Four program, labeled as a sustainable primary production course, is headed up by Panapa Ehau, who is also managing director for Hikurangi Enterprises, the company looking to be the first to grow New Zealand’s first medical cannabis. The program is located in the remote and lustrous Ruatoria—the perfect location for growing industrial hemp, a strain of cannabis with low THC [the chemical that gets you high] and high CBD [the key compound of medicinal cannabis].
Ehau, who has worked for Eastern Institute of Technology for five years, says the course is the culmination of being both a part of the education sector and a charitable company focused on sustainable economic development and local jobs. As a result, they’re running programs that will look to provide students with work on the East Coast.
Ruatoria has suffered for many years from urban drift and lack of work opportunities, to this Ehau looks at this start-up as a boon, "There are a handful of jobs that will come out of this, he says. “But on the wider sphere, it opens up an opportunity for an illegal trade to become open for whanau to be able to utilise those skills in a legal trade—which has huge ramifications for whanau growing in a legal sense ... [Currently], if you get busted then you get fined, a criminal conviction or end up going to jail for using that skill.”
Hikurangi Cannabis managing director Manu Caddie agrees that those skills could be put to a much more productive use. "Our vision is for every family that is interested to be able to have their own glass house and be growing as suppliers and for others to become experts in extraction and manufacturing, then for others to be the administrators and managers of the operation," says Caddie. "It's not a large population [in Ruatoria], so it's not hard to have a significant impact on the employment statistics.
This is an important factor for the Hikurangi Group—as they’re going to need plenty of knowledgeable employees if they’re going to be the first to grow medical cannabis in the country.
"Essentially it's all the same. It's the same setup, the same knowledge, it's just a change of the regulatory environment... So, if you're going industrial hemp, it's exactly the same as growing higher-level THC cannabis, they're the same plant, they require the same inputs", says Ehau.
When asked about the future of growing cannabis for a recreational product, the group is hesitant to define themselves.
"We want to be very clear that our focus is on creating a safe, reliable, consistent product for patients."
“We just want to focus on the medical uses for now, it's too easy to be seen as activists and written off as the 'thin edge of the wedge'—as if we're only really doing it because we want to grow weed and smoke it all day. We want to be very clear that our focus is on creating a safe, reliable, consistent product for patients that need access to which will be affordable. We're focused on delivering a high-quality medical product as soon as possible."
"We've stayed pretty agnostic on the recreational side of things, it's not something we're advocating for strongly, though again we'd like to be well positioned for when that does eventuate," Caddie adds.
At this stage, they’re more interested in creating jobs and making medicine than getting people high. Ehau nods in agreement, "At the end of the day, it's about creating jobs, the wellbeing of the people and the land".
At present, hemp is mostly used for harvesting seeds as a food product or grown for fibre to use in textiles.
Officially, the education provider isn’t specifically focused on growing cannabis, Ehau says.
“The course itself doesn't have a focus specifically on growing any one crop, it's looking at how you can have a sustainable primary production industry or business. We've been able to apply industrial hemp as a crop to that. It's the first time a level four course has been offered in Ruatoria. It's a 20-week course that looks at a whole range of aspects that pertain to growing sustainability”.
So while you won’t be able to have ‘Level 4 certificate in growing sticky buds’ on your resume, if you want to learn how to grow industrial hemp, then this is the only course in the country where you can learn about the plant.
To see more photos by Thomas Teutenburg on Instagram.