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LETTER TO EDITOR: Cannabis confusion ‘falls squarely on the shoulders of Customs’

Saturday 11 March 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


LETTER TO EDITOR: Cannabis confusion  ‘falls squarely on the  shoulders of Customs’

Dear Editor, I write in regards to Thursday’s front page article about “Border confusion continues: Police, Customs at odds over cannabis importation”. The reason for all the confusion falls squarely on the shoulders of Customs because in our Narcotics Act it states on page 49 that, “This Act is administered by the Ministry of Health”. And there is a provision in the MOH Act, Part 5,23- # (7) that as long as all the criteria is met it is legal to import personally prescribed medicinal cannabis products.

As you can see Mr. Editor it is all so incredibly simple but the bureaucratic red tape created by Customs is an illness that needs to be treated like the cancer it has become.

All this red tape started with Xavier Mitchell, the head of Customs. Instead of following the requirements of personally prescribed medicinal cannabis products set out under the Narcotics and Health Acts respectively he has put in motion an erroneous and misguided policy for Customs to follow.

They say truth is stranger than fiction and that must be true because it’s hard to believe all the hoops Customs wants you to jump through instead of following the law overseas doctors have been afforded in prescribing therapeutic medicinal products to be imported into the Cook Islands.

Here we go with their ludicrous policy:

1. Customs receives a request to import medicinal cannabis (prescription attached).

2. This request is then sent to Te Marae Ora for their consideration and approval to bring into the Cook Islands.

3. If it does not fall within what can legally be imported into the Cook Islands TMO will advise both the person and Customs that it cannot be imported into the Cook Islands.

4. If TMO approves the importation, the process to import the medicinal cannabis is as follows:

TMO Pharmacy Services obtains a quote from one of our usual wholesalers for a registered product.

If the quote is satisfactory:

A Controlled Drug Import Certificate is prepared (as per International Narcotics Control Board requirements) which assures the exporting country that the product may legally be imported into the Cook Islands. Import Certificates must be signed by the Secretary of Health and Chief Pharmacist.

TMO Pharmacy Services seeks approval to request a TMO Work Order Number from the Director of Hospital Services. Once approval is obtained, a Work Order Number is requested. The issue of a Work Order Number provides a guarantee to our wholesaler that TMO will pay for the order.

TMO Pharmacy Services emails the Work Order Number to the wholesaler and couriers to them the original copy of the Controlled Drugs Import Certificate.

The wholesaler readies the order for dispatch while awaiting the license to export controlled drugs from the appropriate regulatory authority.

Once the Export License is issued by the Regulatory Authority, our supplier sends the order and required paperwork for export, to our shipping agents to be shipped by us.

Our shipping agents email through the documentation required for us to clear the shipment through Cook Islands Customs.

Clearance is usually done before the products land on Rarotonga.

Once the products are on Rarotonga, TMO Pharmacy Services works with Finance to pay the required Customs Duty and Vat, so that MFEM can issue a Delivery Order.

The order is taken to the TMO Pharmacy Services Warehouse, where it is cleared and entered into stock, readied to be dispatched on request to a TMO Dispensary for it to be dispensed pursuant to a prescription from a registered prescriber.

There you have it, instead of following the laws already in place for the legal importation of prescribed medicinal cannabis products, Alan Richardson, acting head of Customs, is upholding the absurd directive of Xavier Mitchell and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Mr. Mark Brown, the Minister responsible for Customs is allowing this farce to continue.


Steve Boggs