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Cannabis referendum decision expected this week

Tuesday 21 June 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Economy, National

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Cannabis referendum decision expected this week
Photo: Getty Images

The cannabis debate will continue as the much anticipated decision on whether Cook Islands voters will have their say in a referendum will be made this week.

A government spokeswoman confirmed an announcement is likely to be made this week.

Prime Minister Mark Brown last month told Cook Islands news a referendum was “fifty-fifty”.

“I would really like to know what the public’s view is and an election is a great time to ask that sort of question through a referendum,” Brown told the newspaper.

He said the referendum would look at if people wanted to reform cannabis for medicinal and personal use.

Medicinal cannabis advocate, Steve Boggs on Monday said: “Our country's cannabis policies must be completely overhauled and this could have been done already.”

Boggs said under the Cook Islands Health Act 2013 the Minister of Health, Rose Brown, was empowered to develop, apply and impose codes of practice of recognised international standards.

Steve Boggs has been outspoken about the cannabis debate and says the country’s cannabis policies must be completely overhauled. Photo: Caleb Fotheringham/22062001

“This includes any pharmaceutical or therapeutic products, like medicinal cannabis if it is given in writing by the Minister of Health.

“But being the do nothing politician that she is, we shouldn't be surprised that she hasn't acted already to relieve the pain of so many mentally and physically ailing Cook Islanders.”

Boggs said the Cook Islands could consider, New Zealand, Australia and Canada’s rules on medicinal cannabis as recognised international standard.

The referendum is backed by Democratic Party leader Tina Browne.

“I have no problem with having a referendum and let the people tell us what they want,” Browne told Cook Islands News in May.

“When you read in the Cook Islands News or the media there appears to be a strong support for cannabis for medicinal reasons and it makes sense to me, everybody else have moved on and we’re still stuck in the old ways.”

In 2020, a referendum on cannabis took place in conjunction with the New Zealand general election.

It asked “Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?” – 51.17 per cent voted against the referendum question, and 48.83 per cent voted in favour of the question, 1 per cent spoiled their ballot.

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Sarah Helm previously told Cook Islands News part of the problem with the New Zealand referendum was the fact the question was “too specific”.

“The Government had put forward this comprehensive piece of legislation, but it got lost in the weeds when it came to the actual referendum vote,” Helm said.

“I think the question was a big strategic error, it would have been better to have had a question asking about decriminalisation or even asking whether a more health-based reform to cannabis laws were required.”

Helm said the organisation’s research shows that many people who voted no were actually in favour of some form of drug law reform.

She said it was inevitable New Zealand would see some reform on its cannabis laws.