Although several countries worldwide, especially the Western nations have already started embracing medical cannabis in one form or another, such a change in perception seems to be coming slowly to Asia.
However, South Korea may be the first in line in the continent to wholly accept reforms that welcome the medical properties of cannabis.
South Korea’s Food and Drug Ministry recently announced its support for a proposed medical cannabis bill which is currently being deliberated by the legislators of the country.
Unlike most of the Western nations which prohibited the use of cannabis in the 1930s, South Korea did not completely ban cannabis until 1976.
And just like a lot of Asian countries, the South Korean cannabis laws are a bit more extreme than their Western counterparts. Courts in South Korea have the capability to sentence individuals charged with cannabis use and sale to years of imprisonment and even death.
The Narcotics Control Act of the country still forbids all forms of consumption and cultivation of cannabis and hemp products in South Korea. But they allow the limited use of cannabis fiber and seeds for scientific research and for South Korea’s textile industry.
At the start of this year, Shin Chang-hyun, a representative of the Democratic Party of Korea submitted a bill to the National Assembly.
Chang-hyun’s bill aims to legalize strictly regulated cannabis products and would allow the importation of a few cannabis-derived drugs.
An identical piece of legislation was also proposed in 2015 but unfortunately, South Korean legislators rejected it. They noted that it lacked the social consensus on the matter.
What makes the proposed cannabis legalization bill this year different is it has a bigger chance of succeeding with the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announcing its full support of the bill.
Although the proposed measure would still be very restrictive, it would now allow patients from South Korea to take cannabis-based drugs that have been approved by other nation’s drug agencies.
Four drugs to be exact are to be allowed in South Korea- Cesamet, Epidiolex, Marinol, and Sativex.
Even with the permission to use these cannabis-derived drugs, medical cannabis patients are not allowed to grow cannabis flowers nor are they allowed to use cannabis oils and edibles.
Chang-hyun’s measure does not indicate the processing of cultivated cannabis plants in the country would be legalized, rather, it was specific that only the importation of the four approved medications would be considered.
This drew the attention of the advocates of medical cannabis in South Korea, and these groups pleaded to the lawmakers.
They petitioned to expand the bill to allow more forms of natural medical cannabis products. Their appeals were heard as the South Korean Health Minister had agreed to study the matter and hear the counsel of health professionals and the testimonials of patient advocacy groups.
The cannabis industry in Israel and Canada already foresaw this development and the cannabis businesses in those countries are already preparing a wide range of merchandise they can export to the country to meet the expected demand from the South Koreans.
Israel is currently one of the leading countries in terms of the most developed medical cannabis industries.
Tikun Olam, a well-known cannabis cultivator in the country recently announced that their business will be closely working with the Korean cannabis advocates to produce a huge supply of medical cannabis products for South Korea’s new program.
Legislators from Israel have already approved several laws that allow the export of medical cannabis items in 2017, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped these operations in February. He cited that he is concerned that products from Israel might be diverted to the black market.
Even with this mandate from the Prime Minister, Tikum Olam’s project will still move ahead. However, this time, the company has partnered with York Bridge Capital, a private equity firm located in Canada, where every form of cannabis product will be legal in the month of October.
In the meantime, an increasing number of South Koreans have tried to import medical cannabis items from other countries for personal use despite the risk of imprisonment.
“There are many types of products including tablets and ointments outside Korea,” Kang Sung-suk of cannabis advocacy group Organization of Legalizing Medical Cannabis in Korea, said to the Korea Times. “And it’s so easy to buy. You can even buy them from a supermarket or a pharmacy. The current law doesn’t reflect what’s going on outside Korea or help sick people who need medical help.“
Officials from the Customs Agency in South Korea have reported that they have intercepted roughly 80 attempts to illegally import medical cannabis into the country in 2017.
It was a significant rise from the 10 attempts in 2016. Goes to show the increasing public demand for medical cannabis in the country.