The Cook Islands cabinet has agreed to a referendum on the medicinal use of marijuana, making it the first nation in the Pacific outside of New Zealand to do so.
Prime Minister Mark Brown on Monday night confirmed a cannabis referendum will be part of this year’s general election to be held on August 1.
Mr Brown said the referendum which is non-binding will ask electors “Should we review our cannabis laws to allow for research and medicinal use?”
Fiji has just announced its plans to bring changes to its legislation to grow industrial hemp, cannabis that cannot be used for recreational purposes.
For the Cook Islands, this will help control the illegal sale of the narcotic on the islands. Although the nation hardly cultivates cannabis, there is flow from New Zealand to the island nation where it is used for recreational purposes.
The use and possession of marijuana is illegal in the Cook Islands and the legalisation for medicinal purposes would require changes to other legislations such as the Crimes Law.
The Cook Islands is a nation which has been known to deal with legislative changes at a slow pace so while the referendum may favour medicinal marijuana, the changes to laws and to actually see it happen in a couple of years is a big ask.
There have been mixed reactions from people and community leaders.
Nita Marona said she was all for the referendum as this was the best possible way of getting to know how people feel about the subject.
Another Cook Islander Charlie Nga said it was a gimmick to entice votes from people who are inclined towards the use of marijuana.
Cook Islands biggest church, Cook Islands Christian Churches (CICC) was opposed to the idea of the referendum and said there will be great social ills that will follow.
Tourism is the backbone of the Cook Islands and as it has almost zero agricultural exports apart from tuna.
Worldwide a new trend is developing called cannabis tourism. In the United States it is estimated to be a US$17 billion industry.
Fewer people today view the drug as harmful compared to the previous decade, and this may have contributed to a trend towards cannabis-related tourism.
The Cook Islands may eventually be looking to roll with this trend.