Medicinal cannabis now permitted in Cook Islands with prescription

Islanders and visitors can now bring in medicinal cannabis into the Cook Islands from New Zealand and Australia provided they meet certain requirements, says Te Marae Ora (TMO), Ministry for Health.

Minister for Health Rose Toki-Brown confirmed that the Narcotics and Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2023, including the Narcotics Amendment Regulation 2024 and TMO Pharmacy and Therapeutic Amendment Regulation 2024 came into effect as of 02 July, after a Cabinet meeting last week.

The Amendment approved by the Government’s Executive Council, which includes the Cabinet and King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters, now allows residents and visitors with a prescription for medicinal cannabis from an overseas practitioner to import and possess that drug, provided they follow certain stipulations. 

Minister Toki-Brown says medicinal cannabis can now be legally brought into the Cook Islands in compliance with the new legislative requirements.

These requirements include that the prescribed cannabis be used only by the named person to whom it’s been prescribed, and that the amount imported or possessed is no more than the reasonable amount necessary for personal use in accordance with the prescription.

The medicinal cannabis imported should not be more than a month’s worth, in accordance with the prescription.

Toki-Brown said eligible pharmacies including TMO Pharmacy and Cook Islands Trading Corporation (CITC) pharmacy can also import medicinal cannabis.

However, the Minister reminded those bringing in medicinal cannabis that they need to declare it when coming through Customs at the Airport, noting that all immigration and medical officers have completed the necessary training process for this work.

“As long as they follow the process, they won’t get in trouble.”

Toki-Brown explained that the amendment specifies a minimum amount and timeframe for importing medicinal cannabis. She adds the doctors prescribing medicinal cannabis overseas will be aware of these guidelines and will prescribe a month’s supply and for the patient’s personal use, not for sale.

She said the passing and commencement of this new Amendment has been a two-year journey that began on 01 August, 2022 alongside the General Election where voters agreed that the cannabis law needed to be reviewed to allow research and medicinal use.

Following overwhelming response from voters to review cannabis laws, in November 2022, the government formed the Cannabis Referendum Committee led by government MP Tingika Elikana and staff from the Office of the Prime Minister, Crown Law, TMO and a community representative.

The amendment was passed in December last year following a detailed review of current laws and applicable regulations and research visits to New Zealand and Australia by the committee. The development of internal protocols and relevant staff training were also carried out following the proper parliamentary procedures to pass the amendments.

Meanwhile, in an earlier article, Health Secretary Bob Williams said that once the Act comes into force, cannabis will be added into the medicinal list of TMO and the head of the ministry has the authority to approve, maintain, publish, and enforce the Cook Islands medicine schedule.

Williams said: “Cannabis is a controlled drug, it can only come from New Zealand and Australia for the time being.”

He said cannabis can be imported from Medsafe New Zealand and another agency, the Medicinal Cannabis Agency. These agencies ensure that imported medicinal cannabis meets a minimum safety standard.

In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration regulates medicinal cannabis imports.

All necessary information on legal requirements can be found on the TMO website, Facebook page and Tourism Cook Islands website/ Facebook page.

Rarotonga medicinal cannabis campaigner Steven Boggs had previously hailed this as a major breakthrough for Cook Islands patients.

“The Cook Islands can now be added to the list of over 60 nations that legalised some form of medicinal cannabis,” he said.

Boggs said he has no doubt that patients with chronic health conditions will see significant improvement in overall quality of life. “The legalisation of medicinal cannabis is a major breakthrough with the allowance of local doctors to prescribe it to their patients,” he said.