Cook Islands Parliament passes medicinal cannabis import bill

Cook Islanders who require medicinal cannabis for their health’s wellbeing can now import or bring the item into the country, provided the product is being prescribed by an overseas medical practitioner. 

This comes after the Narcotics and Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill 2023 was passed in Parliament Friday. 

Minister for Health Rose Toki-Brown thanked Prime Minister Mark Brown and the Members of Parliament who have contributed to the Bill. The Bill sought amendment of the Narcotics and Misuse of Drugs Act 2004 and now enables controlled type drugs to be imported if they have been or are to be prescribed. 

The Bill is a result of last year’s referendum on medicinal cannabis, which passed with 62 per cent of respondents voting “yes”. The referendum asked: “Should we review our cannabis laws to allow for research and medicinal use?” In response, a Cannabis Referendum Committee was formed to provide a progress report in January 2023. 

On Wednesday, Opposition and Matavera MP Vaitoti Tupa said even though 62 per cent of people agreed for the Act to be amended, 38 per cent were still unsure. 

However, Tupa said he had no problem with the Bill and was glad to hear from the Prime Minister that regulations will be put in place for medicinal cannabis. He emphasised that those who are qualified to bring in the medicinal cannabis need to be carefully scrutinised, and prescriptions must be verified as issued by qualified practitioners. 

Additionally, he called for a list of those who truly require the medicinal product. 

Government’s Aitutaki Vaipae-Tautu MP Teokatai Herman supported the Bill but urged for faster implementation so people can “plant, cultivate, and use cannabis for their own purposes”. 

Herman highlighted the high number of Aitutaki people incarcerated in prison for cannabis-related charges, particularly cultivation and use. He also mentioned that when the referendum was introduced, the people in Aitutaki were led to believe they could cultivate, use, and harvest cannabis for medicinal purposes. 

One Cook Islands MP Toanui Isamaela, of Amuri/Ureia in Aitutaki, also supported the Bill but felt it was introduced too late. 

Isamaela noted that many young people are imprisoned due to cannabis cultivation on the island. 

“I recall the previous time I was here; I remember a member for Rakahanga at the time, Member of Parliament, and this gentleman indicated in the House that they used to sell this grass in Australia. He did say if we were selling that grass here, we would get a lot of money, however we took it as a joke at the time…” 

Prime Minister Mark Brown had earlier emphasised that amending the Narcotics and Misuse of Drugs Act is just the first step. 

Brown explained that further amendments will be required under the narcotics regulations, Ministry of Health regulations, and Pharmacy and therapeutic products regulations.