South Korea has become the first East Asian country to legalize cannabis for medical use. The change comes as part of amendments to the Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs that the National Assembly voted to approve recently. The amendments will allow for “non-hallucinogenic” doses of cannabis to be prescribed by physicians. According to the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, the changes will open up more treatment options for patients with a variety of health conditions, including some rare diseases.
South Korea’s move here is important. According to Vijay Sappani, CEO of Toronto-based cannabis industry capital firm Ela Capital, the move is historic because now other East Asian countries are sure to follow their lead. “Now it’s a matter of when other Asian countries follow South Korea, not if,” Sappani said.
The implementation of the law will be tightly controlled. Patients, in addition to having to obtain a prescription from a licensed healthcare practitioner, will also need to apply to a government agency for rare medications – the Korean Orphan Drug Center – and approval will be on a case-by-case basis.
Even with these controls in place, Sappani says the legalization of medicinal marijuana in South Korea will have a large impact on the global cannabis market. In fact, in July the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced that it would allow cannabis-based drugs like Epidiolex, Marinol, Cesamet, and Sativex – which have all been approved in other countries as well – for treatment of serious medical conditions such as HIV, cancer, and epilepsy.
The South Korean ban on recreational marijuana is still very much in effect, however. In fact, it’s still very strict. Under the law, South Korean citizens can be punished for consuming marijuana even in parts of the world where it’s legal. To that end, the South Korean embassy in Canada actually issued a warning to all of its nationals living in the now weed-friendly country, tweeting “please take care not to commit an illegal act and be punished.”
In any case, while change may be coming slowly in East Asia, it is coming, and for those invested in the business of cannabis, that is great news.