South Korea Legalizes Medical Cannabis

South Korea has legalized medical marijuana, making it the first East Asian nation to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis. The country’s National Assembly recently voted to approve amendments to the Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs which will allow prescriptions for “non-hallucinogenic” doses of medical marijuana. And on November 23, the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced that the changes to the law will permit more treatment alternatives for patients with rare diseases.

Vijay Sappani, the CEO of cannabis industry venture capital firm Ela Capital in Toronto, told Marijuana Business Daily that South Korea’s action is historic.

“The importance of Korea being the first country in East Asia to allow medical cannabis at a federal level should not be understated,” Sappani said. “Now it’s a matter of when other Asian countries follow South Korea, not if.”

Medical Marijuana Will Be Tightly Controlled

The use of medical marijuana in South Korea will be tightly restricted and controlled. Before receiving any cannabis medicine, patients will be required to apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Center, a government agency that helps patients obtain rare medications. Approval will be issued on an individual basis and patients will also be required to obtain a prescription from a healthcare professional.

Sappani said the legalization of medical marijuana in South Korea has worldwide implications for the quickly growing cannabis sector.

“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,” said Sappani.

In July, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced that it would permit the cannabinoid-based medications Epidiolex, Marinol, Cesamet, and Sativex to treat serious medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, and HIV/AIDS. All four pharmaceuticals have been approved for use in several other countries.

Recreational Pot Still Not OK

The legalization of cannabis in South Korea only applies to medical marijuana. Recreational pot is still illegal for South Koreans, even when they are traveling abroad in countries that have legalized cannabis. When Canada legalized recreational marijuana last month, the South Korean government warned its citizens that the country’s ban on pot applied around the world. The day before legalization, the South Korean embassy in Canada tweeted a warning for the country’s nationals to “please take care not to commit an illegal act and be punished.”

Yoon Se-jin, the head of the Narcotics Crime Investigation Division at the Gyeonggi Nambu provincial police agency, told the Korea Times that citizens can be prosecuted for using cannabis anywhere they travel.

“Weed smokers will be punished according to the Korean law, even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal,” Yoon said. “There won’t be an exception.”

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