Is Asia set to become the next big medical cannabis continent?

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While most of the attention when it comes to cannabis legalization is focused on North America these days, some people have an eye on Southeast Asia where medical cannabis, decriminalization, and even legalization are a hot topic.

Thailand legalized medical cannabis for certain conditions back at the beginning of this year, and that caught the attention of investors from around the world. And while traditionally, many Asian countries have been extremely tough on cannabis in the past, that attitude seems to be changing.

It’s little wonder, especially as the global cannabis market is allegedly worth in the order of $13.8 billion, with projections of it reaching more than $66 billion within five years. That research, carried out by Grand View Research turned many heads, and some of those were in the direction of Asia.

All of this has left many people asking whether Thailand and other countries in the region might legalize cannabis along the lines of the Canadian and Uruguayan models. Others think Southeast Asian countries might follow countries like Australia and Israel who only have a legal cannabis provision for medical purposes and not for recreational.

For the time being, Thailand and South Korea are the only countries in the region to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. As Jim Plamondon, head of marketing at Thai Cannabis Corporation told reporters, according to a Reuters report, “The attitude is that it’s already a part of traditional medicine,” he said. “We should ensure that Thais can control their own industry.” Many people were shocked last year when South Korea legalized medical cannabis to treat conditions like epilepsy, chronic pain, and other conditions, as well as more minor conditions.

Another voice against the prohibition of cannabis and the war on drugs, in general, is Malaysia’s Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad. He spoke to reporters recently, saying “Drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrongheaded governmental policies have destroyed many more. I think it’s obvious that after 40 years of war on drugs, it has not worked. There should be the decriminalization of drugs.” Ahmad makes a good point, and that certainly rings true also for countries like the USA and the UK.

All of this leads to investments, and many keen players are looking at the Southeast Asian markets with interest. This is no surprise after Prohibition Partners commissioned a report which found that the legal, medical cannabis market in Asia could top $6 billion by 2024. Prohibition Partners said at the time of the publishing of the report, “In Western markets, recreational cannabis is expected to outperform medicinal cannabis in market forecasts, but in Asia, the opposite is likely to be true.”

The report also focused on Japan as a potentially massive option for medical cannabis. “Japan currently has the largest population of elderly people at 33.1%, and this is set to bring about an unprecedented rise in healthcare costs in the long term,” the report noted. “The region’s spending on healthcare is estimated to reach US$2.7 trillion by 2020.”

However, there’s another huge, untapped market which exists and that’s in China. As the report noted, “Chinese investors are warming up to the cannabis market.“ Furthermore, many inside the Chinese government have encouraged government-sponsored medical cannabis research programs. That’s no surprise as China is currently responsible for growing around 50% of the world’s industrial hemp.

Hanma Investment Group (HMI) is a company in China who have permission to extract CBD from hemp. The company’s president, Tan Xi, explained to reporters”(Chinese) people’s perception of cannabis is no longer as negative as before. We have been reiterating the uses cannabis can be utilized in the medical and health sector,” he said.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that Asian countries will move to legalize cannabis, although many are hopeful for that. Infrastructure costs, distribution, and other factors make this a tricky path for the continent. With that said, the prospect of economic growth and job opportunities, many hope the winds of change will continue to blow in the lands of the rising sun.

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