Hello, and welcome to The Deep Dive—a weekly close-up look at an idea, issue or trend that’s shaping Asia’s future. We’re happy to have you with us. Please send your comments, questions and favourite (medical) strains to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Few would have believed it a couple of decades ago, but weed has gone mainstream: recreational cannabis has been legalised in Canada, Uruguay, South Africa and 11 states of the US, and decriminalised in more than 30 countries, while medical cannabis legalisation is sweeping the globe. In particular cannabidiol, aka CBD, a non-intoxicating component of cannabis, is being used to treat everything from epilepsy to multiple sclerosis to autism to the pain and nausea caused by cancer treatments.
Progress in Asia remains slower—unsurprisingly, given that the continent has some of the strictest drug laws on the planet. On the other hand, the plant is indigenous to Asia and has a particularly long history of medical use in India and China—and it’s in the medical field that it’s starting to gain acceptance in the region. Thailand approved its medical use in December 2018, then South Korea approved four cannabis-based medicines in March 2019.
Even traditionally ultra-conservative jurisdictions are joining in: a medical cannabis law is halfway through being approved by the Philippine parliament, Japan has approved clinical trials for a cannabis-based epilepsy medicine, and both Malaysia and Singapore are considering a form of medical legalisation. Sleeping giant China, meanwhile, dominates global production of industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive variety of cannabis, and is looking at the export potential of medical cannabis products.
Indeed, across Asia a modest ecosystem of companies has sprung up to ride the potential green wave. And while a thriving cannabis business in the region might currently feel like a long shot, no one would have expected the US, a long-term exporter of militant prohibitionism, to be in the vanguard of the substance’s legalisation.
Ironically, in the world of cannabis, things can happen fast. But where are they happening now? Let’s take a deep dive.
“Canada could be to cannabis what France is to wine."
—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the possible economic and cultural boosts from Canada's 2018 legalisation of recreational marijuana
BY THE NUMBERS
The global marijuana market increased by 37 percent in 2018. Global spending on cannabis is forecast to reach US$57 billion this year. Recreational marijuana will make up the majority of that, at 67 percent, while medical marijuana spending will account for 33 percent of the total spend.
Cannabis was consumed within the previous year by 3.8 percent of the global population aged 15 to 64, according to a recent UN report. Asia has the lowest use of any region, at about 2 percent.
Asia’s medical cannabis industry could be worth US$5.8 billion in five years’ time, and four times that three years later, if it were legalised in key markets, particularly China and Japan, according to consultancy Prohibition Partners.
Dubbed the ‘the Hermès of marijuana’, luxury weed brand Beboe sells upscale products in Instagram-friendly packaging from its High End boutiques. Seven pre-rolled Beboe joints will set you back US$60 in California, where the brand is hoping to cultivate a “dinner-party culture” around marijuana.
Approximately 6,400 people registered for a medicinal marijuana card so they could smoke while attending Thailand’s Pan Ram marijuana festival in April 2019, according to organisers. The aim of the inaugural event, which celebrated marijuana culture, is to advocate for wider cultural acceptance of the drug in Asia. See this week's Dive Deeper below for more on Pan Ram.
A New Kind Of CBD In SG CannAcubed Singapore isn’t the most obvious place to set up a cannabis business, but that’s what CEO Glenn Davies has done with CannAcubed. The company exports CBD overseas and also produces industrial hemp, mostly in China’s Yunnan province, in partnership with Chinese state-owned investment fund and Tencent.
The Power Couple Thai Cannabis Corporation
Husband and wife team Don and Sukanlaya Land are poised to cash in on Thailand’s decision to become the first country in Asia to legalise medical cannabis. Their company Thai Cannabis Corporation is currently growing local strains in the country and plans to start exporting CBD products soon.
A QUICK QUESTION
We want to hear your opinion
Will a country in Asia legalise recreational marijuana in the next decade?
Asia was home to the first official government study of marijuana's effects, and still one of the most extensive, in 1894. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, appointed by the British colonial government, concluded that it was pretty much harmless.
The theme of the Gen.T Asia Summit is Breaking Barriers. The mission of the event, which takes place this November 20-21 in Hong Kong, is to break down the barriers that prevent us from achieving our full potential.
In the run-up to the summit, we're exploring these themes through our content.