South Korea is the first country in East Asia and the second Asian country to legalize medical marijuana.
South Korea is the latest country to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
South Korea’s National Assembly last month voted to amend the Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs to allow the sale, import, and export of medical cannabis.
With the decision, South Korea becomes the first country in East Asia to legalize medical cannabis at the federal level. Lawmakers in Thailand, another East Asian country, have been discussing permitting medical marijuana use. Malaysia had sought to be the first in East Asia to approve medical cannabis, but Cabinet members are still negotiating.
The news was unexpected, as Asia has some of the harshest policies and penalties for cannabis use. In South Korea, citizens who are caught using, possessing, buying, or selling cannabis face imprisonment of up to five years or are obligated to pay a fine of up to 1000,000 million Korean won (around $88,000 U.S. dollars).
While medical cannabis products will be tightly restricted and approved on a case-by-case basis, the move marks a significant milestone in the global cannabis industry and is indicative of how the use of marijuana is increasingly accepted around the world.
“South Korea legalizing medical cannabis, even if it will be tightly controlled with limited product selection, represents a significant breakthrough for the global cannabis industry,” Vijay Sappani, CEO of Toronto-based Ela Capital, told Marijuana Business Daily.
“The importance of Korea being the first country in East Asia to allow medical cannabis at the federal level should not be understated. Now it’s a matter of when other Asian countries follow South Korea, not if,” he added.
The recent vote follows a July decision to allow some cannabis-based drugs for conditions like epilepsy, HIV and AIDS, and cancer-related treatments. When announcing the new medical cannabis policy, the National Assembly said that access would be expanded to patients with “rare diseases.”
The new bill still needs to be deliberated in the State Council and be signed by the president to become law.
When Will Medical Marijuana Be Available in South Korea?
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety last week said that patients will be able to obtain medical marijuana in South Korea as soon as the first half of 2019.
The ministry first needs to establish regulations on which cannabis products will be made available and the procedures that patients must follow to quality. It said it would provide more details on medical marijuana processes soon.
To qualify, patients will have to receive approval from the Korea Orphan Drug Center, an organization that allows access to rare medicines. To be approved, patients will have to obtain a physician’s note stating that there is no alternative treatment in South Korea and show their medical records.
Once the new law takes effect, medical cannabis will be imported from countries with products that are already medically recognized, like the United States or those in Western Europe. The cannabis will be available to patients from the Korea Orphan and Essential Drug Center.
Growing Marijuana Industry
This has been a big year for the marijuana industry. In addition to the change in South Korea, in October Canada became the first industrialized country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana.