A revised narcotics bill that goes into effect March 12 will give the green light to imports of medical cannabis for self-treatment under strict conditions.
Under the revised law, cannabis derivatives that have been approved abroad for self-treatment purposes can be brought into South Korea through the Korea Orphan and Essential Drug Center, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
People with diseases for which there are no alternative means of treatment in Korea can import four types of drugs containing cannabis-derived substances that have been approved for sale in the US and Europe.
But bringing in hemp oils, cannabis extracts, or foods that have not been approved as medicine or medical supplies overseas will not be allowed.
To receive the cannabis derivatives through the Korea Orphan and Essential Drugs Center, patients are required to submit applications and receive approval as patients of rare and incurable diseases. Each application must specify a diagnosis along with the name of the drug, the dosage, the period of its administration and how to use it. Applicants must also supply medical records and a doctor's note stating that there is no alternative treatment.
They can receive the drugs upon obtaining the centre's approval.
The import, export, manufacturing and sale of cannabis have been strictly banned in Korea until now, except for the purposes of extracting textile fiber or seeds, or for government service or academic research.
Medical authorities said they had relaxed the rules to address demand from patient groups and in response to international trends toward legalizing the medical use of cannabidiol -- a substance found in cannabis leaves and resins, as well as the upper part of the plant where the buds unfold.
A nongovernmental group committed to legalizing cannabis for medical purposes said, "The revision of the narcotics law, which came after 48 years of banning cannabis, has allowed importing drugs containing cannabis, but patients are still experiencing inconveniences due to regulations on the scope of prescription and drug items."
The group said measures are necessary to expand the prescription of cannabis for medical purposes.