Gov’t may allow imports of pot-based medication

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Gov’t may allow imports of pot-based medication

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will push forward with efforts to legalize private imports of marijuana-derived medication, it said Wednesday.

The announcement marks a considerable shift in the ministry’s attitude toward marijuana. Currently, it is illegal to possess the drug in any form with the exception of research purposes and cannabis cultivation for producing hemp cloth.

Although Korea does allow some illegal drugs to enter the country for medicinal purposes, marijuana is currently not one of them.

“The move aligns with an international trend and public demand to permit the use of marijuana substances like cannabidiol for medical reasons,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is intended to expand treatment for domestic patients suffering from rare and incurable diseases.”

The last attempt by the Drug Ministry to legalize medical marijuana was in 2015. The bill failed to go through the National Assembly at the time, but over the years, there has been growing demand from patients requesting that the government permits the use of marijuana-derived medication. Many patients have asserted that medical marijuana is their last resort after failing to find alternatives in the country.

The full-fledged ban on marijuana has led to a number of cases where patients or their families have been arrested and charged while trying to obtain or use medications derived from cannabis. Civic groups have criticized the Korean government’s rigid stance on banning marijuana-derived substances without question, even those that had accumulated scientific proof of its medical effectiveness and are not restricted in other countries.

In January, a group of lawmakers submitted a bill to partly ease the restriction on importing marijuana for medical use, including the plant and other forms of marijuana-derived products. A ministry spokesman on Wednesday said the government would seek to modify this bill by narrowing the scope of permitted products to marijuana-derived medicine approved overseas.

The ministry made it clear that marijuana-based products like food or extracts not certified as medicine in any other country cannot be brought in.

The ministry also added that it is collecting opinions from various groups, including patients, doctors and civic groups, on the necessity of allowing domestic distribution of marijuana-derived medication.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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