New Zealand
Medicinal cannabis company suffered security breach last year

Medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics has experienced a major security breach after cannabis products were taken from the facility without authorisation.

A 1 NEWS investigation has discovered both Helius Therapeutics and the medicinal cannabis agency chose not to alert the police to the incident. Source: 1 NEWS

Helius Therapeutics has confirmed cannabis oils were taken from their Auckland factory without permission by one of their team in 2020. 

However, the products were eventually returned and destroyed.

1 NEWS understands 12 grams of THC oil and five grams of CBD cannabis oils had been taken.

Helius chief executive Carmen Doran refused to answer any questions about the incident this week. 

However, the company's chairman, Guy Haddleton, explained at his Takapuna home on Thursday, he'd been kept in the dark about the incident. 

He told 1 NEWS he was shocked when he heard about it in September last year - six months after the product was taken.

"I was absolutely shocked, absolutely stunned, my mouth was wide open...what!" 

Haddleton said the board had never been informed.

"In September of last year, the executive chairman at the time came to me and said 'you should be aware that there was a possibility of some missing product from the business' and I asked when it happened, and he said 'March'.

“I noted that there was a bit of a gap between March and [September 2020], and why hadn't the board been informed and then I just said 'let's stop this, we need an investigation, that took me five minutes to decide and it needs to be independent, I don't know what we are dealing with."    

Auckland-based Helius Therapeutics is the first company licenced to begin production. Source: 1 NEWS

The company-appointed barrister Richard Marchant and several former police officers carried out a six-week investigation. 

They found "minimal product had been taken off the premises, it had been returned voluntarily, before the investigation, and it had been fully accounted for".

"His [Marchant's] advice at the time was this did not have to be reported to the police," Haddleton said.

"I fully explored reporting it to the police, the legal advice and the advice of former members of police was that you can come into the police station, you can report it, but as there's nothing missing we're not going to do anything." 

The Misuse of Drugs [Medicinal Cannabis] Regulations 2019 state medicinal cannabis companies must immediately notify the police if there is any unauthorised removal of any cannabis product and then notify the Director-General of Health within three days.

The Medicinal Cannabis Agency told 1 NEWS in December last year it was "voluntarily advised by a company, in accordance with the company’s licence" that a small amount of product had been taken and that it was "satisfied with the responsiveness, and timeliness, of the actions of the company".  

When asked why neither Helius nor the Medicinal Cannabis Agency had notified the police about the unauthorised removal of cannabis products the Agency issued this statement:

"Any obligation to report an unauthorised removal of medicinal cannabis to the police sits with the respective company. 

“The Medicinal Cannabis Agency accepts that this company did not meet this requirement, nor the requirement to notify the MCA in a timely manner."

Health Minister Andrew Little said he's comfortable with how it's been handled.

"It's pretty clear to me both the company and the authority conducted investigations, they've drawn their conclusions, that's it as far as I'm concerned."

The Ministry of Health has granted a licence to Helius Therapeutics to cultivate cannabis plant varieties for use in the research and development of therapeutics. Source: Supplied

Haddleton described the unauthorised removal of the cannabis product as an accident but also said the person responsible no longer works for Helius.

Helius has repeatedly refused to say whether or not the incident was in any way linked to the sudden resignation of its former chief executive Paul Manning in December.

"I'm not going to comment on any individuals involved as that's inappropriate," Haddleton said today.

Manning said he was not allowed to comment and was bound by confidentiality. 

National's associate drug reform spokesperson Shane Reti said the incident could undermine the sector.

"It will cause aspersions in an industry that wants to be squeaky clean and this shows that they're not and that's a real shame."

Medicinal cannabis company Helius. Source: 1 NEWS

Dr Reti said he couldn't understand how the incident was hidden from the board of Helius for so long.

Haddleton said today that Helius had made a range of changes to its Auckland facility in the wake of its own report and advice from the Medicinal Cannabis Agency and its security is now as good as "Fort Knox".

The Medicinal Cannabis Agency said it required Helius to make changes to its procedures, including staff training and further security actions.

Helius Therapeutics last week celebrated being the first company in New Zealand to be given a Good Manufacturing Practice certificate, allowing it to begin manufacturing medicinal cannabis. 

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