The Republic of Korea is the first East Asian nation to authorize medicinal cannabis. The country amended its national drug policy on November 23 to permit the import and distribution of cannabis-based oil to help treat some health conditions.
A pioneering law authorizing medical cannabis in South Korea that took effect on March 12 will pave the way for the first import of particular THC- and CBD-based medications.
Though approved products will stay tightly constrained, the new law marks an important milestone in the global industry and a defining moment in how the drug is seen in traditionally traditional cultures.
The change came as a revelation to many as the Republic of Korea, better known to North Americans as South Korea, has been a spoken opponent of recreational cannabis’ ratification in other countries. Not only has South Korea willingly disparaged countries with relaxed cannabis laws and policies, mainly Canada, it has also accepted a policy under which Koreans who have used cannabis in places where it is legal will be indicted when they arrive back in South Korea.
Remarkably, far more dangerous drugs with uncertain medical value—like opium, morphine, and even cocaine—have been accessible to physicians and patients in South Korea for years.
The most frequently used recreational drug in South Korea is methamphetamine. It is lawful in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and has even been mass-produced by its government as a source of overseas revenue. The drug is transferred from North Korea to China and then to South Korea and other countries.
The South Korean Legislature agreed on the law for medical marijuana in November, though products will be restricted and approved on a case-by-case basis. Under the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) rules, only certain cannabis products certified and marketed in specific countries will be allowed. That list presently includes Epidiolex, Sativex, Marinol, and Cesamet, which have been allowed in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
The MFDS recorded epilepsy, indications of HIV/AIDS and cancer-related treatments, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, and multiple sclerosis as succeeding conditions if there is no substitute medicine previously available in Korea.
Patients with “incurable or rare diseases” must provide the following to the MFDS:
A general application.
A doctor’s diagnosis must contain the medicine’s name, dosage, number of doses per day, and total days of administration.
The patient’s health records, alongside a doctor’s note, declares that no substitute drug exists in Korea.
South Korea’s Attitude with Cannabis
To most South Koreans currently, marijuana is seen as tremendously negative – to the point where the plant is classified as a Class A drug, which includes crystal meth and heroin.
Park Chung-hee, the former South Korean President who successfully established propaganda against cannabis and the absence of information and lack of proper education, produced fear surrounding the stigma of marijuana in modern South Korea in the last four decades since the ratification of the Cannabis Control Act.
With more and more negative publicity, it’s no surprise that the community often links cannabis as a narcotic rather than a plant that can be used for medicinal benefits.
North Gyeongsang Province as Site for Hemp Cultivation
The South Korean government has picked its North Gyeongsang Province as the region that will become the ‘Special Industrial Hemp Free Zone’ to transform the province into a center for “advanced smart farming, bio-based industries.” Lee Chul-Woo, the Gyeongsang Province Governor, stated that this decision signifies the start of a tactic to South Korean industrial progress founded on cannabis.
Hemp Today, announcing the Governor’s statements, remarks how the administration reflects this regulatory area has an importance that unlike that of the already reputable national medical marijuana program, because this guideline does not look at importing but, rather, to a balanced industrialization plan for the medical production of hemp. Until now, cannabis and hemp were available only through the Korean Orphan Drug Center, a national and public unit accountable for providing patients with rare treatments. Currently, the only cannabis product lawfully available in South Korea is imported products bought from Canopy Growth, a Canadian Company. In this new governing context, the objective is to improve extraction and processing operations adept of export-oriented production.
The Future Of Cannabis In South Korea
Although medical cannabis development in South Korea has been slow so far, 2021 looks hopeful towards future expansion.
Even though the future of allowing recreational marijuana looks dreary in South Korea, the next step for medicinal cannabis would be to supervise domestic manufacturing and production in the coming years.
Educating the population, overcoming social stigma, and normalizing the safe medical use of cannabis must be the next steps to produce the much needed commercial boom provided by the plant.
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