While recreational marijuana use was legalized last week in Canada, the second country after Uruguay to legalize it, not everyone in Canada can benefit from the new legislation. South Koreans visiting Canada face up to five years in prison or a fine of 50 million won ($44,000) if they grow, possess, transport, or consume marijuana, even while residing in a country where these activities are legal.
“Even if South Koreans are in a region where marijuana is legal, it will be illegal for them to consume it,” the South Korean Embassy in Canada tweeted last week. “Please take care not to commit an illegal act and be punished.”
South Korean celebrities, in particular, are punished for smoking marijuana to set an example for those tempted to follow suit: singers and television stars caught breaking marijuana laws are often banned from performing and paraded in front of news outlets as additional punishments to prison sentences or fines.
The country’s laws notably underscores anti-drug use. Marijuana smoking has been banned in South Korea since the 1970s, only two decades after it arrived in the country via American troops fighting in the Korean War. Last year, South Korean law enforcement reported 1,044 people on marijuana-related charges and 8,887 cases of narcotics crimes, an almost 50% increase in number of charges from 2014 for both categories.
There are around 23,000 South Korean students in Canada, and 293,000 South Koreans traveling there as of May 2018. Authorities do not test all citizens for marijuana use when they return to the country, but catch people who boast about marijuana use online or screen those with a history of marijuana use. The fact that South Koreans are subject to domestic laws no matter where they are in the world shows the incredibly comprehensive reach of their laws.
Smoking Marijuana Is Legal in Canada, Unless You’re South Korean
SEOUL, South Korea — Recreational cannabis use may now be legal in Canada, but South Koreans visiting the country who are tempted to smoke up risk facing punishment back home, their government warned on Tuesday.
“Even if South Koreans are in a region where marijuana is legal, it will be illegal for them to consume it,” the South Korean Embassy in Canada said on Twitter. “Please take care not to commit an illegal act and be punished.”
South Koreans have known for decades that they can be prosecuted at home for using drugs overseas, even in countries where consumption is legal.
Under the country’s narcotics law, growing, possessing, transporting or consuming marijuana is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won, about $44,000.
South Koreans are subject to their country’s criminal code no matter where they are in the world.
Prosecutors frequently indict returning citizens who experiment with cannabis, as well as those who frequent casinos while overseas. Gambling, like pot smoking, is illegal in South Korea.
The authorities typically do not randomly test citizens returning home, but they keep a close watch on those people who have been caught with marijuana in the past. They also occasionally catch people who boast on the internet about using marijuana.
Pop singers and television celebrities caught smoking marijuana are often paraded before the news media, and can be banned from performing as an additional punishment.
Last week Canada became the second country to legalize recreational marijuana, after Uruguay.
There are about 23,000 South Korean students in Canada, according to government data. As of May, 293,000 South Koreans were traveling there.
South Korea has been a vigorous enforcer of anti-drug regulations. The police reported 8,887 cases of narcotics crimes last year, up from 5,699 in 2014. They booked 1,044 people on marijuana-related charges last year, a 49 percent increase from 2014.
Marijuana smoking arrived in South Korea with the American troops who first came here to fight during the Korean War, and with South Korean soldiers returning from the Vietnam War, historians say. Cannabis was officially banned by Park Chung-hee, a military dictator, in the 1970s.
Source: The New York Times, Chloe Sang-Hun, Oct. 23, 2018. Photo credit to BBC Images.