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Asia Minute: Singapore’s Unusual Medical Marijuana Research

jarmoluk / Pixabay
jarmoluk / Pixabay

A majority of states now allow the use of medical marijuana. And research in the area continues in a number of states. It’s also going on in other locations—including one in the Asia Pacific that may be surprising. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


Singapore is home to some of the strictest drug laws in the world. Possession of a little more than a pound of marijuana can get you the death penalty under the country’s “Misuse of Drugs Act” – in force since 1973.

But Singapore also has a thriving pharmaceutical drugs business—including research and development and a growing focus on biotechnology. And that’s where the interest in medical marijuana comes in – or more specifically, medical cannabis produced in the laboratory.

On Wednesday, Singapore’s National Research Foundation announced a five year program that will include work producing synthetic medicinal cannabinoids.

That means there will be no need to grow any marijuana plants, which would be illegal in Singapore, even for research purposes.

The work is part of a nearly 20 million U.S. dollar program targeting Synthetic Biology Research and Development.

Government officials say there are several focus areas of the program, including research in yeasts and bacteria and in biochemical—all of which may have commercial applications.

But it’s the synthetic cannabinoids that are capturing the biggest headlines.

And Singapore officials say the broader area of synthetic biology can be a key to future business revenue streams, and jobs.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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