Marijuana Imports Highlight Biosecurity Concerns

The first legal medicinal marijuana that came into New Zealand did not breach customs regulations but there was a breach in biosecurity procedure.
According to one affected sector group The New Zealand Biosecurity Institute (NZBI), publicity over the first legal importation of medical marijuana failed to pick-up the fact that the plant material still had to undergo biosecurity assessment for risk. This process was seemingly missed at the border but was noticed by members of the Institute who asked its Executive Committee to enquire further.
NZBI President Darion Embling said a number of its members were concerned at an apparent breach of biosecurity screening processes at the border.
"We have been in touch with MPI, and as a result we understand that MPI refers all declared cannabis products from arriving air passengers to NZ Customs in the first instance. In this case, the items appear to have been released without being re-referred to MPI for biosecurity inspection," Mr Embling said.
"We have had an assurance from MPI that it is working with Customs to ensure future medical marijuana products declared by passengers undergo inspection for biosecurity risk as required.
Mr Embling said the risks of shortcutting the system by letting any kind of plant material into New Zealand without inspection are too high.
"The costs to the nation of any biosecurity breach are enormous.
"We have recently seen the arrival of the invasive pasture weed velvet leaf, a result of an apparent pre-screening and border inspection failure.
"As well, the disease which is killing kauri trees may possibly have arrived in New Zealand undetected on imported kauri material from other parts of the world.
"Any shortcuts to our biosecurity system are unacceptable. The risks are too serious."
Mr Embling said the incident is timely as it comes during the consultation period for the proposed guiding document for biosecurity for the next ten years; Biosecurity 2025.
The NZBI has submitted on the proposed document that it would like to see more accountability.
"Our members want to improve practices and see clear leadership with clear accountability."
Mr Embling said every year Institute members spend hundreds of hours controlling or managing the risks to the economy and the environment of the effects of introduced pests.
"This is work which costs the country hundreds of millions of dollars each year through control, research and border control budgets. This money is coming out of all New Zealanders' pockets," he said.
The NZ Biosecurity Institute is the professional training and networking organisation for people involved in all aspects of biosecurity including pest animal and plant management, and border control. Its members work for research organisations, educational institutions, regional councils and government departments.
All are involved in protecting NZ from invasive species.


NOTE FOR EDITORS
For more information please contact: Darion Embling: (07) 859 0790 | 021 605 029 Media enquiries please contact: Chris Macann, Editor, Protect Magazine - The Magazine of the New Zealand Biosecurity Institute, phone 03 34 99 660 | 021 878 001