Many East Asian countries have low incidence rates of cannabis usage; in fact, China and Japan have some of the lowest rates in their world. This is likely due to general conservatism, lower per capita incomes, as well as current or previously strict enforcement of anti-cannabis regulations.
In Israel, Australia, and New Zealand, this is a different story; each of these countries have relatively high levels of cannabis usage, despite only having legal medical cannabis use. Israel and parts of Australia have decriminalized adult use, Australia is also considering rescheduling CBD to allow for over-the-counter sales (with some restrictions), and New Zealand will review adult use legalization as part of a referendum later in 2020.
Because of current regulations and incidence rates, the market potential for medical cannabis and CBD in this region is not expected to be as significant as other markets in the world like Canada, the US, or Europe. This is especially true for countries like India, China, and Thailand, where the average GDP per capita is less than US $10,000.
Countries Leading the Way
Japan is primed to become the world's next large CBD market, with a loosening regulatory environment, a cultural emphasis on natural health solutions, and young generations obsessed with trendy beauty products. As regulations continue to ease and the popularity of CBD continues to rise, Japan's consumers will be a highly coveted market for European, American, and Canadian producers, as Japanese investors have largely neglected the opportunity to build a local Japanese CBD-production or processing industry.
South Korea will also be a country to watch, though the market is currently underdeveloped thanks to strict regulations. In the coming years, CBD and cannabis are likely to be at least somewhat destigmatized in South Korea as a result of both the domestic legalization of medical cannabis products and a growing global trend. With such a large cultural emphasis on skin care and cosmetics, it's also reasonable to believe that the trendiest new ingredient in cosmetic products – CBD oil – will become popular in South Korea before other forms of recreational CBD and cannabis consumption.
Import and Export Opportunities
Most of these countries (as well as outside investors) see opportunities in cannabis and CBD beyond their own borders. Thailand's regulations stipulate that there will be no import of outside CBD oils for the first 5 years of the program, but that after that companies will be free to import CBD oil with 99% purity made from hemp with THC content not to exceed 0.01% by weight once they receive a cannabis import license from the FDA. Thailand also has plans to export their medical cannabis to other countries with medical programs.
Israel, Australia, and New Zealand also allow for the export of medical cannabis to other countries like Germany, in a move to bolster their agricultural sector. Much of the research and technology being developed in Israel around cannabis will also be exported to countries with legal cannabis. On the other hand, South Korea is importing all of its medical cannabis products, as there are only four specific medications allowed for very serious conditions with low prevalence.