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How U.S. Cannabis Legalization Affects Korean Students

2019/11/10 | Permalink | Source

The legalization of cannabis in some U.S. states has had unexpected consequences for conservative Korea, where a bevy of American-educated rich kids have been arrested for smuggling mostly liquid marijuana into the country.

Some 58,663 Koreans were studying in the U.S. last year, when 11 U.S. states and all of Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use, increasing worries among parents here.

Korean embassies in the U.S. and Canada, Korean residents' associations and other groups have been inundated with phone calls from worried parents who want to learn about the regulations on cannabis. The Korean Consulate in Toronto and other diplomatic offices are even holding seminars to educate Korean students about the dangers of marijuana.

Yet most of the students the Chosun Ilbo spoke to said smoking cannabis is like any other recreational activity.

One Korean exchange student at a university in Washington state first encountered cannabis in the dormitory. "People could get their hands on cannabis without a doctors' prescription and the entire dormitory reeked of it at the weekend. I felt it was just a cultural difference and didn't tell my parents".

Another Korean in his 20s who works at a consulting company in New York said, "People here vape liquid cannabis after work like lighting up a cigarette after a meal". He said most young Koreans who come to the U.S. will try it.

But some parents are thinking of bringing their kids back to shield them from what is still treated as an evil narcotic here.

Cho Yoon-soo of Pacific Edu, which arranges study abroad, said, "Korean parents are starting to prefer New Zealand to the U.S. or Canada because of its strict ban on marijuana. We get about five or six phone calls a week from parents inquiring about canceling their children's education abroad".

In theory, Korea bans nationals from smoking cannabis even in countries where it is legal, but enforcement is rarely worth the police time. Instead, the Korea Customs Service has its hands full when students come back trying to intercept their illegal stash of mostly liquid cannabis, which cannot be detected by sniffer dogs.

Of course marijuana use has always been rampant on university campuses abroad, but until recently Korean students had to stop when they came home because the pungent substance is hard to smuggle. But due to the wide availability of liquid cannabis, that has changed.

In September and October, the son of CJ Group chairman Lee Jae-hyun and the daughter of former Grand National Party lawmaker Hong Jung-wook were arrested trying to smuggle liquid marijuana home.

Vape cartridges are less than 10 cm long, making them easy to smuggle. One Korean student studying in Los Angeles said, "You don't get caught at airports in Korea if you bring in one or two bottles of 600 mg cartridges inside your jacket".

But a growing number are getting caught. According to the KCS, the number of people caught smuggling liquid marijuana rose from just six in 2016 and a paltry 204 g to 120 and 16,356 g last year. In the first eight months of this year, 11 people were caught with 9,800 g.

Lee Yoon-ho at Dongguk University said, "We need to pay more attention to the issue of people going abroad to study becoming potential criminals".

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