How to get a Cannabis License in New Zealand

How to get a Cannabis License in New Zealand

New Zealand has a complex and restricting set of cannabis regulations, but marijuana cultivation is allowed. So, how do you legally grow cannabis on the island?

The medical marijuana industry has come to New Zealand under hefty regulation. While there is always much fanfare for new cannabis markets, you will want to think hard before getting a New Zealand cannabis cultivation license. The small nation treats medical cannabis with the same regulation you would see in the pharmaceutical industry. While the standards and compliance measures are very detailed and clear, they are also very costly to adhere to. Continue reading for a comprehensive guide to help you become a licensed cannabis producer in New Zealand.

Medical Cannabis Legalization in New Zealand

Medicinal Cannabis has been legal in New Zealand as of April 1st, 2020, after the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme came into effect. This scheme aimed to increase the overall quantity and quality of medicinal cannabis supply in New Zealand, by enabling medical cannabis to be grown, processed, and manufactured in New Zealand.

The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is a build-on the medicinal cannabis legalization movement from the medicinal marijuana laws that came into effect through The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulations 2019. Those regulations control the licensing, production, distribution, and sale of medical cannabis and impose the New Zealand Code of Good Manufacturing Practice for Manufacture and Distribution of Therapeutic Goods (GMP) to ensure their quality and safety.

New Zealand Cannabis Drug Scheduling

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1975, possession of non-prescribed cannabis is still illegal. It carries a maximum jail sentence of 3 months or a $500 fine. Possessing 28 grams or more may also bring about penalties for intention to supply.

Growing Marijuana Plants for Personal Use

Cannabis cultivation without a license for cultivation is illegal. Cultivation includes sowing, planting, or any related activity. Illegal cannabis cultivation in New Zealand can result in a 7-year jail term on indictment, or an immediate 2-year jail term and/or a $2,000 fine (depending on the amount of cannabis that is being cultivated).

How to Get a Medical Cannabis License in New Zealand

There aren’t any medical cannabis licenses that are mandated by the government, to access medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. People can only access medicinal cannabis products through a prescription from a doctor, who can decide whether or not a medicinal cannabis product is a suitable treatment.

A medicinal cannabis prescription usually states the kind of medicinal cannabis product(s), and the amount that the patient can obtain. That being said, some companies have sprung up, to prescribe ‘Medicinal Cannabis Cards’ to patients, after they go through a quick consultation with their in-house doctors.

Once a consumer has a prescription from their doctor or clinic, they can access medicinal cannabis online, and offline by looking for retailers that serve their area.

Medical Marijuana Regulation in New Zealand

Medical marijuana regulation in New Zealand is very complex. GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) regulations are applied to all activities that occur after harvest, and producers must have validated processes that are based on a formal GMP risk assessment. It is advantageous to work with a team that is experienced in pharmaceutical regulation if you plan on starting a cannabis business in New Zealand.

Cannabis businesses will need to create a quality system that governs all of the activities happening within the venture. A security plan, a site master file, and an equipment master file are also a necessity. The New Zealand Medicinal Cannabis Agency oversees all licensing and audits.

New Zealand Cannabis License Options

  • Cultivation license
  • Nursery license
  • Research license
  • Manufacturing license
  • Supplier license

How to Get a Cannabis License in New Zealand

If you want to become a cannabis cultivator in New Zealand, you will need to fulfil a number of requirements. Like in Canada, you will also need to have a site constructed and ready for operation.

In order to apply for a cannabis license, applicants need to provide a ‘supply’ activity on their license application, meaning the applicant needs to identify if they intend to supply, or export starting material, cannabis-based ingredients, or medicinal cannabis products.

Products that are intended for supply, or export for therapeutic use must also meet the medicinal cannabis minimum quality standards, which are explained further below.

Quality Standards & Manufacturing Practice Requirements

You’ll need to start by reading all of the Medical Cannabis Guidelines, especially Parts 2, 3, and 4 which explain the expectations for GMP compliance, non-GMP regulatory compliance, and the detailed requirements for obtaining a license. The Minimum Quality Standard is another regulatory document that must be read and understood.

The minimum quality standard assessments may include any of the applicable assessment below:

  • Product assessments: To apply for a ‘supply’ activity under the Medicines Act of 1981, applicants will need to apply to the Medicinal Cannabis Agency for a product assessment, before they can supply:
    • medicinal cannabis product intended for use by patients
    • cannabis-based ingredients
    • shipment of starting material for export
  • Supplying starting material, cannabis-based ingredients, or medicinal cannabis products for export: To supply starting cannabis-material, or medicinal cannabis products for exports, applicants will need to obtain a license to export a controlled drug, for each consignment, and ensure that an import license is issued by the importing country as well.

These examples show how New Zealand cannabis growers must use a GMP risk assessment to provide a rationale for when they begin implementing GMP in their production process. Depending on the specific procedures a company uses, growers will need to take GMP measures after the cannabis is dried.

Images taken from Part 2 of The Medical Cannabis Guidelines.

Cannabis licenses in New Zealand are not overly expensive, but the cost of creating GMP-compliant facilities, integrating its processes, and adhering to its policies is can be hefty. New Zealand cannabis license applications can be obtained online.

New Zealand’s Cannabis Recordkeeping Requirements

The recordkeeping requirements in New Zealand are extensive and must adhere to GMP regulations. Even if you are only growing cannabis flower, you will need to keep meticulous records and start GMP adherence in the drying stage when risks to product safety and quality begin.

While some countries delay implementing GMP until after the buds are dried and cured, New Zealand is much more strict and requires its cannabis cultivators to behave like pharmaceutical producers. This requires having:

  • Defined manufacturing batch number system
  • Developed specifications for the raw materials, finished product, and primary packaging components
  • Established the manufacturing process and written standard operating procedures
  • Established the control points and critical parameters for the process
  • Finalized batch manufacturing and packing records
  • Amount/quantity of plants cultivates
  • Amounts/quantities of mother plants, seeds, and clones (and failed plants/seeds)
  • Plant destruction records
  • Sales and distribution records
  • Cannabis inventory
  • Seed-to-sale tracking

New Zealand does allow for the use of paper records, but with the strict requirements of their regulations, paper records are likely to become a liability. Their lost of destruction could result in major losses in productivity. The solution is thus having a software that is capable of seed-to-sale tracking and logging cultivation activities. Numerical data such as plant weight, as well as the handling of high-level quality management functions like CAPA and deviation reporting, record retention, and quality control inspections also need to be retained. GrowerIQ’s seed-to-sale software can help you with all your cannabis-related operations.

GMP Risk Assessments

A risk assessment is a formal process that is used to consider the level of risk when evaluating an establishment’s conformity to the GMP. This includes the nature and extent of the deviation(s) in relation to the type of products being handled and the activities being conducted. Quality Risk Management is a systematic process for the assessment, control, communication, and review of threats to the quality of the medicinal product. It can be applied both proactively and retrospectively.

The Principles of Quality Risk Management

  • The evaluation of the risk to quality is based on scientific knowledge, experience with the process and ultimately links to the protection of the patient
  • The level of effort, formality and documentation of the Quality Risk Management process is commensurate with the level of risk
  • Risk assessment is an important tool that can assist in addressing deviations, corrective actions, complaints, and can help inform HACCP planning. During a risk assessment, an inspector assigns a risk classification to each observation, ranging from 1 for “critical,” to 2 for “major,” to 3 for “other.”

Risk assessments form a very formal procedure based on evidence and observations. One cannot simply base them on their own perspectives. GrowerIQ offers template SOPs for controlled quality management procedures such as risk assessment.

The risk assessment procedure helps you classify risks and use those assessments to justify quality control measures and procedures. All observations that are recorded in a report of risk analysis will require corrective action, regardless of the overall inspection rating attributed to the inspection.

Risk Assessment Classifications

Critical Observation (Risk 1)
Describes a situation that is likely to result in a product that may result in an immediate or latent health risk, or that involves fraud, misrepresentation or falsification of processes, products or data.

Major Observation (Risk 2)
Describes a situation that may result in the production of a drug not consistently meeting its marketing authorization. Some Risk 2 observations may be upgraded to Risk 1, for example in cases where the issue identified is not isolated to one area or system – these are indicated with an arrow (↑).

Other Observation (Risk 3)
Describes a situation that is neither critical nor major, but is a departure from the GMPs. Any Risk 3 observation could be upgraded to Risk 2.

Bearing in mind that risk assessment is just a pre-requisite to creating SOPs and a quality management system, the complexities of New Zealand’s cannabis regulations are evidently not to be taken lightly and are likely to require a dedicated team of professionals with experience both in cannabis and pharmaceutical regulation.

A highly experienced Quality Manager can help guide you through the process of establishing systems that will ensure you qualify for a license. Even with the obtention of a template SOP system, only a Quality Manager that can validate and customize for a business’s need.

Largest New Zealand Cannabis Cultivators

Here are four Kiwi cannabis cultivators that have capitalized on the growing medicinal cannabis market in New Zealand, and abroad.

Hikurangi Cannabis

Hikurangi is a social enterprise that was founded by a group of Māori people on the East Coast of New Zealand, in 2015. They’ve successfully grown their business, to over 22 employees, after having raised $2.4 million in a crowd-funding campaign.

Helius Therapeutics

Helius was founded by successful businessmen, Paul Manning, JP Schmidt, and Gavin Pook, who started the business using their own capital. Shortly after starting the business, they raised $15m from local investors, which was used to build two cannabis cultivation and production sites in Auckland. They plan to stay in the medicinal cannabis space, even if the recreational market opens up in the future.


Cannasouth was founded by Mark Lucas, and Nic Foreman who have been involved in industrial hemp cultivation, and research since 2002. Accordingly, these pioneers were granted one of New Zealand’s first cultivation licenses. Cannasouth grew through two funding rounds and then went public after listing on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. The company has a market capitalization of $62.18 NCD as of November 2023.

Puro New Zealand

Puro was founded in 2018, and quickly raised funding by the end of 2019 in order to start building their first growing sites at Kēkerengū (outdoor growing site) and Waihopai Valley (indoor growing site). The company prides itself on being ‘New Zealand’s largest cultivator of medical cannabis‘, according to the square footage of the facility. The company has two cultivation sites, and have also built New Zealand’s largest medical cannabis drying facility, according to square footage of the facility

Seed-to-Sale Software for New Zealand Cannabis Tracking

If you are looking to start a cannabis company in New Zealand, you will definitely need to have seed-to-sale tracking software in addition to quality management software and an ERP. Luckily, GrowerIQ has all of these features and can keep you GMP and GACP compliant when used properly. GrowerIQ also offers expert support and consulting that can help you create the intricate quality systems and procedures that the New Zealand cannabis program requires.

Find Out More

The fact that you found your way to this article is remarkable, we’re sure that you’re an ambitious grower. The oppourtunity in international trade does not end here. We have written guides on getting your cannabis license for more countries, such as Australia, Mexico, Thailand, and South Africa. Check out our guides over here: How to get your Medicinal Cannabis License in Australia, How to Get a Cannabis License in Mexico, Thailand: The First Asian Country to Legalize Cannabis, and How to get a Cannabis License in South Africa.

New Zealand’s marijuana industry is still in its first steps. Legalization of recreational use has yet to occur, but it is likely in the country’s future. In the meantime, consult with GrowerIQ’s cannabis experts to find out how to hold a stake in New Zealand’s cannabis market and adhere to all its regulations. Our Seed-to-Sale software can facilitate the growing process and help you get a lucrative marijuana venture started. Learn more by filling out the form below!

About GrowerIQ

GrowerIQ is a complete cannabis production management platform. Ours is the first platform to integrate your facility systems, including sensors, building controls, QMS, and ERP, into a single simplified interface.

GrowerIQ is changing the way producers use software - transforming a regulatory requirement into a robust platform to learn, analyze, and improve performance.

To find out more about GrowerIQ and how we can help, fill out the form to the right, start a chat, or contact us.

Start today.

Let us know how to reach you, and we'll get in touch to discuss your project.

GrowerIQ does not share, sell, rent, or trade personally identifiable information with third parties for promotional purposes. Privacy Policy

About GrowerIQ

GrowerIQ is a complete cannabis production management platform. Ours is the first platform to integrate your facility systems, including sensors, building controls, QMS, and ERP, into a single simplified interface.

GrowerIQ is changing the way producers use software - transforming a regulatory requirement into a robust platform to learn, analyze, and improve performance.

To find out more about GrowerIQ and how we can help, fill out the form to the right, start a chat, or contact us.

Start today.

Let us know how to reach you, and we'll get in touch to discuss your project.

GrowerIQ does not share, sell, rent, or trade personally identifiable information with third parties for promotional purposes. Privacy Policy