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Marijuana possession laws ‘dated’, says PM

Monday 30 January 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Crime, Local, National

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Marijuana possession  laws ‘dated’, says PM
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown. PHOTO: Caleb Fotheringham/22111708

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says the country’s laws on cannabis possession are ‘quite dated’.

PM Brown confirmed a week ago that Government had created a committee looking into rules and regulations and availability for medicinal cannabis.

However, on Friday, he told Cook Islands News that “lines can (be) blurred” in regards to “side issues” such as laws around possession and the recreational use of marijuana.

“We’re looking at the legislation, and how it impacts on the recreational use of cannabis, which is severely restricted and harshly punished,” PM Brown said.

“I think the legislation around cannabis use is quite dated, and 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.”

Asked about whether it should be considered a health issue rather than a criminal issue, PM Brown replied: “I’ve seen that argument in places like New Zealand and Australia from certain advocates for legalising marijuana”.

When questioned whether he would support either legalisation or decriminalisation of marijuana, Brown said: “That’s a bit of a leading question, I think we will stick with the medicinal marijuana referendum.”

“We haven’t jumped yet on recreational cannabis.”

The referendum on medicinal cannabis at the August 2022 general election was overwhelmingly in favour, with 62 per cent of respondents voting “yes”. The referendum asked: “Should we review our cannabis laws to allow for research and medicinal use?”.

Cook Islands News understands the committee includes several people, including Health Secretary Bob Williams, chief pharmacist Andrew Orange, and acting Solicitor-General Lauaki Jason Annandale. Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana is chairman of the committee.

Elikana has previously said the committee had held some meetings prior to Christmas, and had received some legal advice from the acting Solicitor-General and also some policy advice from Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health.