After almost a century of prohibition, Canada has become the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to fully legalize the use of cannabis.
Accounting firm Deloitte estimates legal marijuana is expected to become more than a $6bn business in Canada in 2019, with up to $4.34bn coming from the legal recreational market and as much as $1.79bn from medical sales.
The global legal medical cannabis market alone could be worth more than $50bn by 2025.
The dizzying numbers surrounding Canada’s ‘green rush’ has triggered interest across Asia as hardliners soften their attitudes towards cannabis use, incentivized by the potential economic impact of legalizing the weed in their countries.
Here is some of what’s happening in Asia;
Sri Lanka will begin cultivating cannabis for medical purposes later this year.
Health minister Rajitha Senaratne said he plans for cultivation to take place across 100 acres of designated cannabis plantation land in the north-central Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts. This is estimated to produce 25,000kg of the drug annually, which will be used for domestic Ayurveda – a South Asian system of medicine – and for export to North America.
Farmers will be hired by the state to cultivate the cannabis, and production will be overseen by the military. Cannabis prohibition was initiated by British colonizers in Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth century.
Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is currently drafting a new bill to remove marijuana from the Category 5 Narcotics list. But it will only apply use for medical purposes.
The law is expected to be passed as law in April 2019, making Thailand the first Asian country to legalize medical cannabis and they will be competing in the market led by the US and Canada.
The country’s Governmental Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) has also begun researching mass-producing medicines from the drug. While 72% of Thais support the move to legalize weed for medical purposes, a Nida poll found half said it should be restricted to hospital use. Back in the 1980s, Thailand used to be the world’s top exporter of illegal cannabis.
The challenge for Malaysia, which still imposes strict punishment for some drug trafficking offenses, is how to draft new laws that are specific enough to differentiate marijuana for medical as opposed to recreational and other uses. The Ministry of Health, which has the final say, remains skeptical about the medicinal value of cannabis. The country’s cabinet was reported to have “very briefly” discussed its medical value last month. Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jayakumar described getting cabinet support for medical marijuana use as an uphill battle. “My own personal view is that if it’s got medicinal value, then it can be a controlled item that can be used by Ministry of Health for prescription purposes,” he said.
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that claimed the lives of thousands since mid-2016, the Philippines committee on Health in March last year endorsed the use of medical marijuana. House Bill 180 prescribes the rules for the proper use of medical marijuana, including the designation of a qualified medical cannabis physician, a medical cannabis patient who shall be issued an identification card, a qualified medical cannabis caregiver and a qualified medical cannabis compassionate centre. Lawmaker Rep. Seth Jalosjos believes legalizing marijuana for medical use, has the backing of the Philippine Cancer Society, “will benefit thousands of patients suffering from serious and debilitating diseases”. Medical marijuana has been frowned upon by Filipino leaders in the past, but Albano feels confident that his Bill will pass with Duterte in power.
The usage of marijuana is rooted in ancient literature and Hindu mythology. Despite its illegality, it is well documented that marijuana is grown in many parts of the country, especially in villages in Himachal Pradesh and in the Indian Himalayas. Cannabis cultivation and trade are partially restricted in India. While its cultivation for industrial purposes (i.e. obtaining fibre such as industrial hemp or for horticultural use) is allowed, consuming it could lead to a jail term of six months or a hefty fine. Earlier this year Uttarakhand became the first State in the country to allow commercial cultivation of hemp crop. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, whose Patanjali company, has already made a fortune selling ayurveda-based face cleansers, toothpaste, and detergents is now looking to cannabis as a growth avenue. “There exists a huge market for cannabis in India. A lot of scientific research needs to be done, especially for those who are framing the laws,” said Yash Kotak, founder and director of Mumbai-based startup, The Bombay Hemp Company, which is backed by industrialist Ratan Tata.
While cannabis remains illegal in the People’s Republic of China, the country itself produces 50% of the world’s supply. China’s crops are largely hemp, and thus the non-psychotropic and fiber-rich variety of cannabis. As of 2017, Chinese companies have 309 out of the 606 patents filed around the world that relate to cannabis. So while cannabis remains illegal in the People’s Republic of China, its massive economic potential poses a threat to cannabis interests around the world. In Hong Kong, manufacturing cannabis or any other drug included in the city’s Dangerous Drugs Ordinance is deemed the most serious of all drug-related offenses. Any person who cultivates any plant of the genus cannabis faces an HK$100,000 fine and 15 years in prison. For China’s pot to make a significant impression on the Western canna-economy, there must be state-approved logistics for global distribution and permissive banking regulations, experts say.
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