South Korea is currently garnering a lot of attention in the cannabis industry following its legalization of some cannabis derivatives for medical purposes. The legalization comes as a surprise for many in the international community, particularly because South Korea has aggressively opposed cannabis — most notably by criminalizing the consumption of cannabis by South Koreans traveling abroad to nations where cannabis is legal, such as Canada. Most of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, has generally lagged behind other regions of the world in cannabis law reform. South Korea’s change of heart is prompting a lot of speculation regarding possible widespread reform across Asia much sooner than previously anticipated.
The revised law adopted November 23, 2018 is limited to CBD concentrates with THC levels too low to cause intoxication. Although somewhat unexpected internationally, it was less surprising for those in South Korea during last year’s media coverage of law enforcement action resulting in the incarceration of an ailing child’s mother for attempting to import CBD derived medication for her 4-year-old son who was suffering from brain cancer — public opinion clearly opposed such punishment. Not long after this event, Shin Chang-Hyun introduced a legislative amendment to South Korea’s national drug policy — pointing to CBD’s acceptance as an effective treatment related to cancer, autism, dementia and epilepsy in other countries from Europe to North America.
The new rules impose highly restrictive conditions that will apply to the new regime governing the use of medical cannabis. Nevertheless, proponents of legal form for cannabis laws believe the change signals a major shift in attitudes not only by the public generally but more importantly among lawmakers. Additional details regarding implementation of those rules will be available by the end of the year with importation of CBD products anticipated by the middle of 2019.