More Top Stories


Protecting whistleblowers

6 September 2022


Local surfer at spot x

5 September 2022

Rugby league

Vaka Training Successful

30 August 2022

Pacific Islands
Rugby league
French Polynesia
Rugby league
Pacific Islands

Pacific news in brief

12 August 2022


Competitor at heart

11 August 2022


Final counting underway

10 August 2022


The ride of their lives

8 August 2022


Cannabis reform not for recreational use, says TMO

Thursday 25 August 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Health, National


Cannabis reform not for recreational use, says TMO

Medicinal cannabis law reform will be underway soon, with a Cabinet paper to be presented.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Cook Islands Secretary of Health Bob Williams said there would be a Cabinet Paper presented to the Prime Minister.

It comes after the overwhelmingly positive response to the referendum question during the 2022 general elections, with 62 per cent of respondents voting “yes”. The referendum asked: “Should we review our cannabis laws to allow for research and medicinal use?”

“I guess the policy will look around the approval process by health professionals and identify how many people around the country require that form of medicine,” Williams told RNZ.

“For me as the Secretary of Health it will just be medicine use not for recreational use and that will be only for residents. I am not sure that we will be extending that to anyone outside of the Cook Islands.”

When Cook Islands News approached Williams for further comments, he said: “I won’t pre-empt what will go to Cabinet and until then I will not make a comment. This paper will wait until the new Cabinet is formed.”

Earlier this month, recently re-elected Prime Minister Mark Brown told Cook Islands News that the Government will be looking very quickly to establish a regime to allow doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis for their patients.

“We’re hoping to get it underway as soon as possible. Further to that, we will be looking at whether there is a chance to further diversify the economy in regards to production,” PM Brown said.

Under the Cook Islands’ present law – in particular sections 6 and 7 of the Narcotics and Misuse of Drugs Act 2004 – dealing in controlled drugs is a criminal offence. Cannabis is classified as a controlled drug.

New Zealand Drug Foundation director Sarah Helm said it was great news to see the Cook Islands consider best steps to make cannabis more available for medicinal purposes.

“We have learnt a lot about that here in New Zealand and a medicinal cannabis scheme was put in place in 2020,” Helm said. 

“However, I would caution against replicating the New Zealand scheme, which has been widely considered a failure for both our local medicinal cannabis industry and patients alike.”

Helm said New Zealand’s scheme has set the standard for products so high that it is near impossible to get approved.

“The products are therefore expensive and not subsidised. This has resulted in CBD oil product, with no psychoactive properties, in excess of NZ$330/month,” she said.

“In New Zealand, we estimate 94 per cent of people who use cannabis for some kind of therapeutic benefit or pain relief still access it on the black market.

“People with disabilities are more likely to use cannabis, for example. While science is still catching up, there is emerging evidence of its benefits regularly emerging. It may for example have beneficial impacts on as far-ranging ailments as: epilepsy, arthritis, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, depression and sleep problems.”

Williams said the chief pharmacist has been tasked with looking into medicinal cannabis pharmaceuticals used in New Zealand and Australia.

“We also looking what is available in New Zealand or Australia, what has been approved for medical use and whether we can have access to those medical medicines within New Zealand or Australia.”

Helm said local research into how many people use it for pain relief, inflammation or other diseases maybe a helpful start before creating any policy or legal regimes

“There will always be a group of patients that do not have easy access to health care services like doctors,” Helm said.

“Therefore, it would be wise to consider removing criminal penalties for cannabis, especially as we also know these generally do not deter cannabis use in any case.”

  • Additional reporting RNZ