This morning, a group of patients visited Southern Medicinal, a cannabis-growing facility in Matura, aiming to drastically lower the cost of treatment.
When Cohen Brown first tried cannabis to relieve his pain, he was 13, curled up in a fetal position after surgery.
He has two types of cancer and a genetic condition where tumors grow on his nerves and nerve endings.
It was an uphill struggle to get a prescription for cannabis, but he said it was worth it with a better quality of life and getting rid of prescription opioids.
But it wasn’t cheap – he spends between $300 and $400 a month on medical cannabis – roughly $10,000 a year.
“I have to prolong it of course, and not only that, I resorted to keeping things in mind. My medication – medical cannabis – is on credit through the pharmacy because I can’t afford it any other way.”
But a possible solution was on the horizon.
By the Matura River, Southern Medicinal has been ramping up its operations after the successful trials of a cannabis plantation.
Cohen-Brown toured the cannabis growing rooms on Friday morning and was optimistic that his prescription costs wouldn’t stay too high for much longer.
“It would make a huge difference for me. Not just me but thousands of patients across New Zealand.
“Unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot of stories people have come to me. They can’t afford it and there are people who have had to mortgage their house just to buy it.”
Southern Medicinal CEO Greg Marshall hopes to soon be able to help.
He planned to reduce the market price by 90 percent and reduce the black market price as well.
“One of the patients here today is spending a little over $10,000 a year on medical cannabis. We’ll be able to save it for $900 a year.”
He wanted to provide a medical pot at an affordable price to people, and he said Southland was a great place to do that with a favorable climate to grow.
To keep costs low, he was using an existing building – he had converted the former Mataura paper mill into a medical facility for cannabis and cannabis growing, testing and processing.
It previously contained toxic aluminum waste, but Greg Marshall said the site had been checked and cleared of any contamination, so it was a good idea to go there.
While touring the former cavernous paper mill, he explained where different parts of the operations would go, saying that the farms of the different suppliers were less than an hour away.
He planned to have the site up and running by February.
“We’re going from 10,000 plants we had in the ground last year to 50,000 plants in the ground this next year, and we’re bringing in nearly 10,000 square meters of that plant to be able to handle that.
“Currently across the road we have 2,400 square meters of plant working with genetics, processing, indoor growth, seedling creation and mother plants.”
Joseph Ball has cerebral palsy and uses cannabis for pain control and for recreational purposes.
“You think of pain as a square with sharp edges. It’s now going around those edges, the pain isn’t very sharp, and I think the blessing of cannabis unlike opioids is that you can still feel the pain. You still know the pain is there, so you don’t push With your body to the point of hatred.”
He preferred to obtain cannabis by prescription, and hoped that such projects would help reduce the stigma against cannabis users.
Pharmacist Steve Joe started finding medicinal cannabis about six years ago.
“The cost of the product was really high. I can still remember – without putting in any margins – about $300 to $400 a bottle being charged to patients.”
There is now better information about medicinal cannabis for medical professionals, he said, and it is becoming more expensive — and more will be used when the price drops further.
Greg Marshall was keen to bring 100 farmers on board to grow 500 hectares of medicinal cannabis across Southland.
Southern Medicinal had been hoping to get a “green light” for supply, with a plan to start planting in October.