2 Feb 2023

Cook Islands looks into producing medicinal cannabis itself

10:36 am on 2 February 2023
Southern Medicinal cannabis crops

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

By Caleb Fotheringham

The Cook Islands could start growing its own cannabis following the country voting in favour of it being allowed for medicinal use.

A legally non-binding referendum on medicinal cannabis was held in August 2022 alongside the Cook Islands general election.

Sixty-two percent of respondents voted "yes" to the question: "Should we review our cannabis laws to allow for research and medicinal use?"

The Government has since created a committee to look into rules, regulations and availability for medicinal cannabis.

Committee chair Tingika Elikana said the country might need to change its laws to allow cannabis to be manufactured.

"If the opportunity is cheaper for us to manufacture our own to treat those with ailments in the country, then we might have to go down that road and encourage people to get that opportunity," Elikana said.

"If we're going to go down the road of manufacturing our own medicinal cannabis, then we might have to look at the issue of possession, because you don't want to catch everybody who are legally entitled to possess because of being involved in the manufacturing of cannabis medicine in the Cook Islands."

Elikana said the Cook Islands may allocate manufacturing licences or allow people to grow a certain amount for personal use.

He said it was up to the entrepreneurs in the Cook Islands to see if there was a business opportunity.

Elikana said the committee was also seeing if medicinal cannabis could be imported under the current Ministry of Health legal framework.

"At the moment, it is looking positive, but we're just awaiting final advice from the Crown Law office."

Elikana said he did not know when medicinal cannabis would be available in the Cook Islands.

Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Meanwhile, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown told Cook Islands News last week the country's current laws around possession were "quite dated".

"It may need review to bring it in line with similar legislation in New Zealand and Australia. From what I understand our penalties are quite harsh compared to New Zealand and Australia," Brown told the newspaper.

"We're looking at the legislation, and how it impacts on the recreational use of cannabis, which is severely restricted and harshly punished."

The committee includes several people, including Health Secretary Bob Williams and acting Solicitor-General Lauaki Jason Annandale.