The Status of Legal Cannabis in Asia

This is the place where it all began. Although there’s no consensus between botanists as to where exactly the first cannabis strain originated, all theories point towards somewhere between Central, East and South Asia.

Whether the first sprouts of cannabis first saw the sunlight on the foothills of the Himalayas, along the banks of the Yangtze River, or somewhere in the Caucasus, it’s accepted that the first humans to utilize the plant were Asian, which makes it interesting to learn that now, the continent is somewhat left behind legalization policies when compared to its western friends.

A Brief History of Cannabis in Asia

The Chinese people pioneered in human-cannabis relations. Their territory is the first to indicate a use of the plant, as rope imprints on ancient pottery, dating back to over 12,000 years back.

Evidence also indicates that Chinese emperor Shen Nung (a noted physician of the ancient world) was the first to record the plant’s medical properties over 4,700 years back.

The Vedas, ancient texts of Hinduism, speak of cannabis as a sacred plant of the Hindu people, in writings which were compiled at least 3,400 years ago. The plant, taken in the kind of a hot drink called bhang became popular on the Indian subcontinent, and its presence can still be found there to this day. The strong industrial ties between Indian kingdoms and the Persian empire introduced the plant to the middle-east, where it had been eaten and smoked in the kind of Hashish, attaining strong popularity around the middle ages, and finding its presence in ancient Sufi poetry.

Entering the 19th and 20th centuries, influenced sometimes by western forces , others by regional legislation, the majority of Asia’s countries added cannabis for their list of banned substances.

But, some of Asia’s most advanced countries are already taking the lead in the topic, jumping on the western world’s bandwagon.

Perceived by many as Asia’s most “European” nation, the tiny middle-eastern nation has been a global leader of medical cannabis innovation, research, health-care and technologies for the past 3 decades.

Israel legalized medical cannabis as a prescription medication in 1994, and now, more than 30,000 patients are periodically provided with prescriptions, which makes it one nation with the greatest rates of legal customers per capita, when considering that the country has a population of only than 8,7 million.

The 2018 European Cannabis Report released by Prohibition Partners, states that “The nation is presently growing significantly more cannabis than its medical market can sustain”, which makes for good export opportunities that the Israeli government isn’t waiting to exploit. A bill soon to be accepted, will allow Israel to become the latest member of the international club of cannabis exporters.

The Republic of Korea recently made headlines since it warned its citizens living in Canada that culminated in the use of cannabis outside of Korea was still prohibited for them. The message was especially targeted at the 23,000 South-Korean exchange student now living in Canada, as well as everyone thinking about paying a visit to the nation.

However harsh Korea’s policies might regarding recreational use, the nation is dialing it down when it comes to medical, as it very recently declared amending their Narcotics Control Act, making medical cannabis legal throughout the country. Nevertheless, the new legislation is very restrictive, as it only allows for hemp-based CBD, requires a physician ’s recommendation and special approval by the Korea Orphan Drug Center, the institution that handles all rare medications.

The 60s saw the first illegal imports of Thai marijuana into the usa. With products thankfully welcomed as the “Cuban cigar of Cannabis”, during the 1980s, the “land of smiles” became one of the world’s leading cannabis producers for the international black market. However, after implementing tough anti-drug campaigns, in strong alliance with the “war-on-drugs”, Thai bud became pushed to the background. In 1934, fees for ownership in Thailand couldn’t exceed 1 year of prison. Following the US government got involved in the 80s, new laws arose, and current ownership charges could land felons a pleasant 15 year-long visit to a Thai jail-house.

That’therefore it’s so surprising to learn that Thailand could become the second state in the Far East to allow some form of legalized cannabis for their citizens. This May, an amendment to the nation ’s drug law was passed, allowing for the research of medical marijuana in humans.

A private company known as the Thai Cannabis Corporation has been granted permission to nurture 5,000 hectares of cannabis so as to create economic growth models and study the possible applications of CBD.

A history of quality production methods, crossed with perfect geography for cultivation, could re-establish Thailand among the world’s cannabis powers, this time, through lawful means.


A recent controversy triggered by the death sentence of a 29-year-old Malaysian citizen for producing and selling CBD oil prompted a necessary revision of the nation ’s drug laws from the Cabinet members.

Although public outrage began a domino effect that could soon change the Southeast Asian state ’s laws, actual legalization might still be far ahead. The particular problem Malaysia is facing now is how to come up with an efficient way to differentiate cannabis from other psychiatric drugs, which at the moment, lay inside the same bag of capital punishment. Although hard developments are still to occur, the Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jayakumar recently stated in an interview with Bloomberg, he’s doing everything in his power to open the nation to legal cannabis.


Although the Far East giant still punishes cannabis consumption and ownership without mercy, there’s a sign of its interest in entering the international weed game. After Canada went legal on Oct. 17th, China joined the group of Asian nations warning their citizens not to use the medication even on Canadian earth. Chinese government officials also held Canada responsible as the main manufacturer and exporter of illegal cannabis into China.

However, what the Chinese government isn’t bragging about, is that their country stands for 50% of the entire worldwide cannabis production. Composed mainly of hemp cultivated for textile production, the Chinese hemp fields take up enormous portions of the Heilongjiang and Yunnan provinces.

China is also taking a silent lead-in cannabis research and invention. Of the 606 cannabis related patents worldwide, 309 belong to Chinese companies. What the Chinese government intends to do with this capital is yet to be found, but dependent on the nation ’s recent inclination to ingeniously capitalize on international trade opportunities, it wouldn’t be a surprise to soon learn of a new move by the Chinese cannabis market.

Although some Asian countries, like India, have historical cannabis customs which are still widely spread amongst locals, and even tolerated by law-enforcers, there still has been no news of official announcements regarding legalization. Other nations, like Afghanistan, hold the name for the world’s biggest exporter of illegal hash, yet keep strict anti-marijuana legislation on paper. Singapore recently launched a genetics research program to test to identify the genes responsible for producing CBD from the cannabis plant, to be able to create synthetic cannabinoids for medicinal use. Nonetheless, possession and consumption of organic cannabis can result in a decade of imprisonment in the little city-state.

Since the majority of the news treated on this article happened within this past year, we can anticipate a large flow of fresh cannabis-related events to occur before long from the Asian continent.

Published at Fri, 21 Dec 2018 17:12:29 +0000

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