Cook Islands Health Minister Bob Williams says there is no “urgency” to move forward with legislation to legalize medicinal cannabis as there is already a strain available from New Zealand.
Earlier, Williams told the Cook Islands News that a cabinet paper legalizing medicinal cannabis was being prepared.
On Monday, however, Williams told the newspaper that “there is a Medsafe New Zealand approved medicinal cannabis drug that Te Marae Ora can import for approved patients in the Cook Islands, which would not require any change in law or regulation. Therefore, there is no urgency for the Cabinet to make a decision.”
TMO’s Chief Pharmacist, Andrew Orange, has been contacted for comment. Cook Islands News asked both Williams and Orange what the product was and how many Cook Islanders had access to it.
The push for medicinal cannabis use in the Cook Islands received an overwhelmingly positive response in a referendum question during the 2022 general election, with 62 percent of respondents voting yes. The referendum asked, “Should we review our cannabis laws to allow for research and medicinal use?”
Shortly after the election results, re-elected Prime Minister Mark Brown told the Cook Islands News that the new government would very quickly seek to introduce a rule allowing doctors to prescribe medical cannabis to their patients.
“We hope to start doing this as soon as possible. In addition, we will see if there is an opportunity to further diversify the economy in terms of production,” PM Brown previously said.
On Monday, Rarotonga medical marijuana advocate Steve Boggs said, “Medsafe is not mentioned in our Health Care Act.”
“I think Secretary of Health Bob Williams is cherry picking and has put the blinders on in this case,” Boggs said.
“You may use any suitable country, such as Canada or the United States, as a model for medical cannabis legislation.”
Boggs said both the Prime Minister’s earlier comments and the referendum result showed that many people were keen to see progress on legalizing medicinal cannabis.
“People have spoken,” he said.
Boggs said there are a number of cannabis clinics in New Zealand that one can go to to discuss medical marijuana with a doctor.
“Legally, as long as you meet all requirements for personally prescribed imported medicines, you don’t need anyone in government to freely exercise your civil rights,” Boggs claimed.
“But I am compelled to warn everyone that it would be better to get in touch with Health Secretary Rose Brown and get her written permission, otherwise I have no doubt someone somewhere in Government will try to act against you violating civil rights and trying to stop it.”
Sarah Helm, Executive Director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, said: “In New Zealand, both the industry and patients are struggling with our medicinal cannabis regulations because they are too restrictive.”
“The high quality standards expected from suppliers and the lack of funding mean that the price is inflated. As a medical cannabis patient, I pay around $330/month for CBD oil (without THC) to treat my arthritis,” Helm said.
“So we estimate that 94 percent of patients here (NZ) continue to use the black market.”