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Korean lawmaker pushes to legalize medical marijuana
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2018.02.05 12:16
  • Updated 2018.02.05 14:35
  • comments 0

Despite the Korean government’s negative stance on marijuana, a lawmaker is working to pass a bill to legalize its medical use, noting that some foreign pharmaceutical companies are developing cannabis-based therapies to win approvals.

Pharmaceutical companies are developing cannabis-based therapies amid the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in some U.S. states. A Korean politician is also moving to permit the use of medical marijuana.

Rep. Shin Chang-hyun of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said last month that stringent laws against marijuana have led to some adverse effects in Korea, including criminalizing individuals who purchased hemp oil or other cannabis products to relieve symptoms of cancer or other illnesses.

“The law strictly forbids the sale and purchase of cannabis, which led to a recent case of a mother being arrested and sentenced in court for buying cannabis oil from abroad to treat her son with brain cancer,” Rep. Shin said after submitting the revision bill to the National Assembly on Jan. 8.

The main ingredient of hemp oil is cannabinoid (CBD), which has no hallucinogenic effects, Shin added, noting that CBD has been tested in the U.S., Canada, and Germany and proven efficacy in neurological and brain diseases such as brain metastasis, autism, and dementia in clinical trials.

According to the lawmaker, the current narcotic law allows highly addictive drugs such as opium, morphine, and cocaine to be used for medical purposes but excludes cannabis.

Shin is receiving both criticism and support in his efforts to legalize medical marijuana use by allowing those with medical conditions to use the drug with the approval of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

Although Korea takes a hardline stance against weed and has built a reputation for being a “drug-free” country, the number of celebrities and other individuals using the drug for recreational and medical use is growing.

Korea smuggled in the largest amount of illegal drugs last year than ever before, according to data from the Korea Customs Service (KCS) Wednesday. Authorities found nearly 430 cases and 70 kg of illegal drugs worth around 88 billion won ($82.3 million) in 2017, marking a 12 percent increase. Of the drugs seized, marijuana and related products amounted to 13.6 kg, becoming the second most commonly smuggled drug following 31 kilograms of methamphetamine, or philopon.

Meanwhile, reports Friday said the police arrested a singer-turned-vocal trainer for growing and smoking marijuana in his apartment veranda. The police said that they found around 100 cases of disposable injections and 323 grams of hemp seed, 65.24 grams of marijuana, and 0.3 grams of philopon at his house.

The reports came on the same day the Busan Seobu Police arrested three people for possessing about 150 grams of cannabis and allegedly having consumed around 20 million won worth of cannabis starting from June 2016.

“The movement to legalize medical marijuana in many countries in North America and Europe, and the legalization of recreational marijuana in eight U.S. states, including California that has the largest Korean community, lead us to believe that the smuggling of marijuana from North America and Europe will increase continually,” the KCS said in a statement.

Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the United States, 29 states have allowed cannabis for therapeutic purposes while eight have legalized its recreational use. With the growing tolerance toward the herbal substance, pharmaceutical companies and investors are seizing the opportunity to create and profit off new marijuana drugs.

A report by Grand View Research said last month that the medical marijuana market is expected to reach $55.8 billion by 2025 with the existence of regulatory frameworks such as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act and peaking interest over the therapeutic uses of cannabis among researchers and healthcare providers. Marijuana has demonstrated it could, with very little risk, suppress vomiting and nausea while providing pain relief for people with chronic pain.

Noting on the business opportunity, several companies, including Therapix, Cara Therapeutics, Cannabis Sativa, Zynerba Pharmaceuticals, GB Sciences, GW Pharmaceuticals, Lexaria Bioscience Corp, and Insys Therapeutics, have jumped into developing cannabis therapies.

Among them, GW Pharmaceuticals is coming to the forefront with notable progress in developing a CBD drug for epilepsy. The British drugmaker is best known for Sativex (ingredient: nabiximols), the first natural cannabis plant derivative to gain market approval for multiple sclerosis.

GW Pharmaceuticals is now making ripples throughout the industry with the publication and backing of its phase 3 results for Epidiolex, its epilepsy drug, in the international journal the Lancet last month. The drug, co-developed by GW Pharma and Greenwich Bioscience for patients with a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, proved to notably reduce drop seizures compared to the placebo (44 percent vs. 22 percent) in 171 patients.

The U.S. FDA has already granted the drug Orphan Drug Designation. Consulting firm Evaluate predicted its annual sales to reach $960 million, achieving a near blockbuster drug status.

New Pride Corporation, which operates mainly in the automobile and entertainment industry, said it would expand into the marijuana market with the announcement of a $4.25 million acquisition of Equity Growth LLC, a marijuana shop and growing facility in Los Angeles, Calif., sending its shares on an upward trajectory.

“We will proceed with the venture with confidence over the value of medical marijuana and as a future business despite the various difficulties, including a possible bad reputation and concerns about excessive optimism,” New Pride said in a statement.

New Pride’s acquisition of a 51 percent stake in Equity Growth spiked up its share prices 14.5 percent Friday. The flurry of investment reflected a high interest in medical marijuana among domestic investors, which may slowly shift the image of grass from substances for criminals and eccentric individuals to effective therapies for those who need pain relief.


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