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How Metaverse Can Bridge the East And West Cannabis Cultures Think the US is the leading market for cannabis? Not for long, say Asia watchers

By Zayn Khan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Mitch Ngo, CEO of Golden Ark

Although the percentage of Asia's population using cannabis in 2019 was a low 2 per cent, that translates into 85.5 million people, twice as many as the US count of 48.2 million users during the same time. And while the total market value in Asia still lags behind the US, it is guaranteed to grow in the near future. By 2024, China and Japan, who account for 90 per cent of the Asian medical cannabis market, are estimated to be worth $4.4 billion and $800 million, respectively. In total, Asia's medical market could be worth $5.8 billion. Since Asian countries make up half of the world's population, it doesn't take an MBA to understand why Asia will undoubtedly be the most valuable export market.

The conservative and prohibitionist attitudes Asian countries adopted in the 20th century were motivated by UN drug treaties and bolstered by US political pressure. Historically, however, that era was preceded by a cultural tradition of cannabis use, including holy festivals, India's Ayurvedic, and China's ancient herbal medicines. Ironically, now Asian countries are echoing European and US trends in public acceptance and governments' inclination to regulate and tax the industry rather than prohibit it. While recreational use is still prohibited in most countries, medical use is on the rise.

Singapore, known for zero-tolerance cannabis laws and barbarous punishments that include caning and death, announced it would research medical applications for synthetic cannabis in 2018. But 2019 was truly the Year of the Rubicon for Asian cannabis legislation when the Thai parliament amended their Narcotic Act of 1979 to legalize medical use and South Korea and Japan quickly followed with similar laws. In the same year, The Asian Cannabis Report published an influential evaluation of seven key markets that offered optimistic projections for the region, including data on consumption, regulatory timeline, healthcare analyses, and market value forecasts.

Cannabis producers and industry investors see Asia as a key to long-term expansion beyond the highly competitive markets in Europe and North America. The Asian industry, however, is wary of Western entrepreneurs profiting from the emerging cannabis industry, with fears of being dominated in the race for market leadership. The challenge is to establish access for local businesses while benefiting from the expertise of Western cannabis companies.

How do you bridge the gap between the two interests? Mitch Ngo, CEO of Golden Ark thinks the answer can be found in the Metaverse.

Ngo had the ideal perspective on this issue, one that focuses on his Asian heritage, technological expertise, and interests in cannabis. Born in Vietnam in the late 1960s, he came to the US as a refugee and found himself immersed in Silicon Valley technology. When his father developed cancer, he looked to cannabis to help ease his pain and became aware of the notable lack of cannabis information on the internet. Since then, he's devoted his energies to propagating cannabis education and documentation and found the blockchain-based Metaverse is perfect for his mission. While the Metaverse drives traffic with gaming and entertainment, blockchain enables the transparent distribution of products from seed to sale and NFTs provide authentication. The metaverse is also ideal for the promotion and distribution of information and products to a global community.

For Asian-American markets, this means the opportunity to collaborate on global platforms with transparency and decentralized control. Ngo points out that Thailand is once again the leader in this field. Along with efforts to position Thailand as an international medical hub and cryptocurrency center, the government is promoting cannabis as medically valuable and agriculturally profitable. Specifically, it supports a home-based cannabis industry by establishing a "Cannabis Digital Asset" metaverse business model, allowing people to access cannabis enterprises with virtual reality technology.

Expanding Asian markets can also benefit the American industry by increasing traffic to the businesses that set up stores in the metaverse. At present, platforms suffer from a low volume of users, but sales of all tangible and virtual products would benefit from a significantly larger, open global marketplace. With more demand, laws pertaining to cannabis sales and marketing will become more flexible, Ngo predicts.

Ngo sees the metaverse integrating all commercial cannabis platforms in a mutually supportive and safe ecosystem. Of course, many governments continue to ban cannabis use and imports, but Ngo envisions a future when the economics of the cannabis industry outweigh outdated political policies and social prejudices. When that happens, Golden Ark will be there to light up the way to a cannabis metaverse.
Zayn khan is working as a personal branding and business growth specialist with brands and individuals around the globe. He's contributing editor for Entrepreneur AP, covering startups, wealth management, entrepreneurship and more
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