Mercury Staff
Some unexpected news out of East Asia yesterday: South Korea passed legislation that will allow its citizens access to medical cannabis, albeit under some highly restrictive rules. But insofar as Asia has some of the harshest policies and penalties for cannabis use, this represents a tremendous victory, and could herald loosening of laws in other Asian countries.

Marijuana Business Daily reported yesterday that "the country’s National Assembly voted to approve amending the Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs to pave the way for non-hallucinogenic dosages of medical cannabis prescriptions."

Patients will be required to get a prescription from a medical practitioner, to start. Next, they need to apply to a government agency, the charmingly named "Korea Orphan Drug Center," which serves to provide access to patients with rare medicines, including cannabis.

Korea Kush isn't hitting shelves anytime soon, however. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced in July that it would begin to grant those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and seizure disorders access to "canna-ceuticals" such as Epidiolex, Marinol, Cesamet and Sativex, and these cannabis-derived medicines will be what most patients will be prescribed. On November 23, the National Assembly announced they would be expanding access to patients with "rare diseases."

Other Asian countries, such as Singapore, have draconian cannabis laws on the books that can put citizens and tourists in prisons for decades. Some counties, such as Thailand, are considering making medical cannabis legal, although as Time magazine reports, the program would be “for medication only, not for recreation.”

South Korea's change of heart took many by surprise, and is a substantial victory on many fronts. Per MJBizDaily:

“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 Vijay Sappani, CEO of Toronto-based Ela Capital, a venture capital firm exploring emerging markets in the cannabis space.

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