The medicinal use of cannabis goes back thousands of years and while there has been a century of restrictions and stigma around this contentious crop, recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand has provided the opportunity for companies to apply for a licence to locally grow and develop quality and consistent supplies of Cannabis Sativa for the research, development, and design of medicines.
Organic Genetics is one of the few companies here in New Zealand to be provisionally granted such a license. Founded in 2019, Organic Genetics has set out to offer a natural alternative to pharmaceutical medicines and opioids. This has a personal meaning for Co-Founder Holly Wright who, after having seen family members suffer from the terrible side-effects during their final stages of life, wants to transform medicinal practices with an option that is rooted in wellness, not short-term management.
Holly Wright shares with us why she thinks that medicinal cannabis is the future of wellness.
Part of your vision is to bridge the gap between healthcare and wellness. Can you talk about what gap you see there?
Yes, when starting out in this industry, it was very easy to see the gap between healthcare and wellness. In a lot of healthcare, it’s more about treating and, in some cases masking, symptoms as they come. Organic Genetics is very much focused on a wellness-based approach, which means taking into consideration the true core of the issue that may be causing those symptoms. We believe medicinal cannabis has a lot of potential to be used in conjunction with, and sometimes even in place of traditional medicines, using a more natural and wellness-based approach.
What potential are you seeing?
The potential in New Zealand for this industry is huge! It’s a slow progression, but there is a lot to work through to get this industry operational, as well as education needed to help uplift the stigma and educate people around its benefits. When we founded Organic Genetics in 2019, there wasn’t a lot of talk about using cannabis as a medicine, even though there were a number of people using it medically for different ailments. Since we’ve started this business, we have met with numerous families and friends that have been using medicinal cannabis with amazing benefits. The potential is there to really make a difference and a lot of what drives us is the people relying on us to contribute to this industry’s success, and make medicinal cannabis products more accessible.
What are some of the other health benefits that you’ve been starting to work on out of medicinal cannabis?
So far, we know that medicinal cannabis products can potentially be useful in treating epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatment (such as nausea, pain and loss of appetite) and symptom relief in palliative care. The quality of life it can potentially provide is incredible and Organic Genetics is committed to the ongoing advanced research into developing the most effective strains to potentially help improves lives and treat those chronic illnesses and symptoms.
The global medicinal cannabis market is estimated to be worth $46 billion by 2026. Do you think that New Zealand could be a key player in that growth?
Yes, it’s such an incredible and fast-growing industry. We definitely feel New Zealand has the right landscape to become a premium producer of medicinal cannabis products. We’ve always had this wonderful image to the outside world of being a quality producer in our horticultural and agricultural markets, and I think coupled with the strict regulations the governing bodies have set here for the industry, we will have a strong position when it comes to the global export market.
How does it work when you start something like this with your husband? Do you have to draw a line in the sand between work and home?
It can certainly be challenging, but equally as rewarding. Like most entrepreneurs know, when you start a business, there is no switching off. For the last two years we’ve been guilty of living and breathing this business 24/7. Because we are so passionate about our vision and goals, we can’t help but chat about it and bounce ideas off each other all day and night! Working so close with your partner is not cut out for every relationship, but it has been an awesome learning curve for us. We both have different attributes, and have learnt how to play on each other’s strengths and lift each other up in our weaknesses too.
How do you build this global team in the way that you have?
That’s definitely Paul’s forte! Being raised in the southern California region where the cannabis industry is massive, he was able to nurture existing relationships with friends and family. All of them have been working in the industry for several years, whether it’s in cultivation, cannabis marketing and events – even as specialised lawyers and accountants. They were all very interested and excited to hear about the opportunity here in New Zealand, which ultimately led to us partnering with our extensive team of seasoned industry professionals, as well as obtain access to exceptional Californian genetics.
I was going through your investment information, and I did not expect Mike Tyson to pop up, but even he’s involved in the industry. Can you talk about the link there with the proprietary genetic side of things?
Ha-ha yes! I’m sure that’s very unexpected for many. Our partners the Originals are highly respected in the industry in LA, and their genetics are extremely sought after. Because of that, they do a lot of collaborations with celebrities, including cultivating premium craft cannabis for their products lines. Mike Tyson happens to be one of those celebrities and has his own successful range of cannabis products, called Tyson’s Ranch, who the Originals supply. Our little six degrees of separation story!
When you see this kind of thing happening in the States with celebrities having their own brands, does it just create this momentum where it starts to erode that stigma that is connected to the industry?
Yes, most definitely. When you see what’s happening in the market globally, all the incredible product lines and different opportunities there are, and the people fronting those, I believe it really does help to shift the stigma. I know there’s even a Kiwi woman by the name of Amanda Jones who lives in LA, doing incredible things in the business of cannabis with her own line of CBD tea products. She hosts these incredible tea parties with influential Beverly Hills women. Amanda and her business partner Jennifer both seem like the unlikeliest candidates to be building a cannabis empire, but it shows that stigma has truly been lifted over there and I have high hopes New Zealand will eventually follow suit.
You’ve got a very personal story for what’s driving this. Can you talk about that?
Yes, for me personally, I’ve been very interested in the quality of life that medicinal cannabis can provide, especially for the elderly and patients towards the end of their lives. Both of my grandparents passed away from cancer, and at the end it was very hard as they were not able to be present with us during those last moments. Opioids and prescription drugs have their place but offering an alternative like medicinal cannabis can potentially mean those patients are able to eat better, sleep more soundly and most importantly be present in the moment with their families to have those last cherished conversations before they pass.
If we look five years down the track, where are you and what have you achieved?
In these next few years, a focus for me will be on education to uplift the stigma around cannabis. Being a young female, I think that’s really going to help shift the dial as people probably wouldn’t expect me to be into medicinal cannabis. We will hopefully see more widespread acceptance and knowledge around medicinal cannabis in five years. By that point, we’ll have our cultivation facilities in Auckland and Northland up and running to cultivate our high THC premium craft cannabis and CBD rich hemp. We will also be well into the product development stage, manufacturing and shelfing our products here and in international markets. It’s going to be an exciting road!
Now in terms of raising capital, why was it important for you to go through crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding initially sparked our interest for its brand awareness reach and the ability to create a strong community , as well as being a seamless platform to facilitate a capital raise. Opening our door to New Zealanders to invest in Organic Genetics means we can develop a strong network of individuals who all share the same passion for medicinal cannabis. In this industry, it’s important to have an active community behind you who believe in the journey and the potential benefits medicinal cannabis can provide – our community will also play a big part in helping us uplift the stigma that surrounds the industry.
What are the secrets to building a multi-million-dollar company in a highly competitive industry within a couple of years?
There’s definitely no secret to success, just a lot of hard work, passion, sheer determination and the right networking opportunities. I think in any industry, but especially this one in particular, it’s so important to have the right network and team behind you. You really need to bring in experts in the field who have extensive industry knowledge and a proven track record, and I believe Organic Genetics has been very successful in doing this.
You talk about needing the passion to be there, but passion can come and go. Is there something else that you need to bring in there as well to feed that stamina?
Passion can come and go, but we fortunately haven’t hit that point yet. If anything, we’re more passionate about making this business a success than ever before. Some days it is hard though, and we think ‘How are we going to get there?’ I think that’s where a strong belief that you can reach your goals kicks in. No matter what, you just need to keep pushing through and believing in yourself. You’ve got to dig deep and remember no-one can see your vision like you, so it’s up to you to illustrate that to everyone.
So you get that voice occasionally?
Yes, definitely. There are days I’m like, ‘Wow, this is such a big project, how are we going to achieve all of our goals?’’ But I think at the end of the day, it’s a mix of everything we’ve mentioned, as well as remembering all the families involved with this industry who are relying on companies like ours to help them gain access to the products they so desperately need.