woman holding an unrolled joint

Is Cannabis or CBD legal in Asian Countries?

Despite being part of the hippy trail since the early ‘70s, most Asian countries are far behind the U.S. and much of Europe when it comes to cannabis legalization. CBD has still not been legalized across the whole of Asia, and restrictions vary from country to country. If you live in an Asian country, are traveling, or planning on opening a business, it’s essential to know the legality of CBD. Asia is the world’s most populated continent, with the population estimated to number around 4.561 billion people, and contains a diverse range of cultures and ethnicities. These factors all influence the attitude towards cannabis use, and the continent’s opinion on cannabis is as diverse as its population. In some countries, medical cannabis or using CBD in cosmetics is permitted, but many countries forbid cannabis altogether.

Taiwan, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are more lenient and allow CBD use under certain circumstances. Other countries are more stringent, including India, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Butam, Singapore, and Afghanistan that all forbid the use of cannabis, including for medical purposes. Other countries are vague with unclear restrictions, like Laos, where hemp may be grown but only for export.

Many countries carry severe legal penalties, including lengthy prison sentences for possession of marijuana, and some have a mandatory death sentence as the punishment for trafficking.

This can feel confusing for travelers who are likely to encounter restaurants with a ‘happy menu’ – a menu that includes cannabis-infused foods – and may lead to the assumption that cannabis is legal. While you might feel safe in one of these establishments, as soon as you exit the property with cannabis in your possession, you put yourself at risk of being arrested. Countries like Laos and Cambodia both have bars selling weed and extremely high fines for those caught by the tourist police.

Is there Recreational Marijuana in Asia?

Recreational marijuana is banned throughout most of Asia; however, when it comes to medical marijuana, the attitude of the law is slowly beginning to change. Asian countries are beginning to appreciate the medical benefits of marijuana. Countries like Singapore that have had harsh laws against cannabis use in place for years are now pouring millions of dollars into researching the medical benefits of cannabis, which can change government attitudes around cannabis use and lead to the creation of what could potentially be a multi-billion-dollar market.

China and Japan, currently the most prominent players in the Asian medical cannabis market, are expected to have a cannabis industry valued at close to US$4.4 billion to China and US$800 million to Japan by 2024, which would represent control over 90% of the medical cannabis market in Asia. Although governments may only be realizing the medical benefits of cannabis now, in many Asian countries, these benefits have been well-known for centuries. Cannabis use in Asia can be traced back to the significant role it played in traditional Chinese medicine. In the past, marijuana was often added to food, especially soup, as an herb and for its medicinal benefits.  Additionally, although tourists may be penalized for possession, some countries allow their citizens to grow a limited amount of crop for personal use.

Negative Attitudes in Asia Around Cannabis

In summary, the attitude to cannabis in Asia may generally seem negative, but this attitude is slowly changing. As the medical benefits of cannabis become more widely known, demands for legalization will increase and eventually even spread to recreational marijuana. The cannabis market in Asia is just beginning and is expected to experience exponential growth in the near future.