Why South Korean and Japanese People Still Can’t (Legally) Smoke Weed in Canada

October 23, 2018

South Korean and Japanese people visiting or living in Canada will have to think twice about using cannabis–even though legalization for recreational use took effect there earlier this month.

This week, South Korean police announced that citizens there are still subject to their national prohibitive drug policy, even while abroad in jurisdictions that have legalized.

“Weed smokers will be punished according to the Korean law, even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal. There won’t be an exception,” said Yoon Se-jin, head of the Narcotics Crime Investigation Division at Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency, according to the Korea Times.

Similarly, Japan’s consulate in Vancouver released a statement advising Japanese nationals living or travelling in Canada to abstain from purchasing or possessing cannabis. Marijuana remains outlawed and subject to punishment under Japan’s Cannabis Control Law.

These international applications of Korean and Japanese drug laws reflects the structure of the East Asian nations’ laws in general, which follow citizens even when they are not in their home territories.

Although they could face up to five years in prison, most South Koreans and Japanese who use marijuana in Canada will not–and most likely could not–be identified and prosecuted by their national government. “South Korea can’t screen everyone who visited a foreign country,” Lee Chang-Hoon, a professor in the department of police administration at Hannam University in Daejeon, told the Guardian. However, some blacklisted South Koreans may already be subject to heightened surveillance while travelling abroad.

The same applies to Japanese nationals. ““It’s probably difficult to go after a case unless it involves a situation in which the person has been caught abroad and deported to Japan,” said a Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official.

More likely, the South Korean and Japanese governments will be especially attentive to the possibility of marijuana being brought into the countries by returning nationals. Above all, though, the countries’ impractical statements about overseas marijuana use reflects their anxiety as legalization gains international traction.

“Police messaging shows they are anxious about tackling this issue in the near future,” said Professor Lee Chang-Hoon.


Photograph: Getty via The New York Times

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