Marijuana in the Korean Political Landscape

Marijuana in the Korean Political Landscape

Marijuana in the Korean Political Landscape

The legalization of marijuana has been a heavy topic surrounding many controversies across borders. There have been some states in the United States of America that have legalized the use of medical marijuana with some even legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. The use of marijuana in the medical field especially has faced several heated debates internationally, and South Korea has passed legislature for the usage of medical marijuana in 2018 with individuals gaining potential access in early 2019. Since South Korea is one of the first Asian countries to legalize the once Schedule I drug, the legalization of medical marijuana is not quite as accessible as other regions.

The medical usage of medical marijuana in South Korea is tightly regulated and controlled with patients having to apply directly to the Korea Orphan Drug Centre, which is a government institution that facilitates the patient’s access to rare medicines. The application process however, is only accepted under specific conditions including: a general application, a doctor’s diagnosis which includes the medicine’s name, dosage, numbers of doses per day and total days of administration, and the patient’s medical records with a doctor’s note that states that no other substitute medicine is available in Korea. It can be argued that such tight regulation to a legalized medicine brings about the question of whether legalization of marijuana changed anything at all.

Korea has had a negative relationship with marijuana since the 1976 Marijuana Control Act, which was put into effect under the dictatorship of Park Chung-Hee. This act effectively outlawed any possession and smoking of marijuana, but gave room for the cultivation of hemp under strict regulation. This act was pushed by the former dictator with the American influence crashing into the Korean peninsula from the hippies’ culture stemming from the American bases. The war on drugs rhetoric during the 1970’s in the United States was a strong motive for Park Chung-Hee to pass such an act, and was the beginning of Korea’s negative relationship with marijuana.

Given the aforementioned negative attitude towards drugs like marijuana, it was a surprise to the Western media and Korean citizens alike when in March of 2019, the bill for the legalization of medical marijuana was passed. There are several logistical issues that Korea will have to deal with in passing this legislature, which includes the actual production and distribution of the drug. The import and export of medical marijuana can be problematic since it would still be illegal to make deals with countries which have not approved medical use, so Korea will have to work with only the countries where medical marijuana is federally legal.

Currently, Korea is exclusively importing CBD based medical marijuana that does not contain any THC. The Korea Orphan Drug Center has already chosen four types of CBD medicines, which is a legal product in many of the states in the United States, Canada, and countries in Europe. Since the Korean law bans any form of imports and exports with countries that have not fully legalized marijuana and its subordinate products, it is rather difficult to find products that match the requirements for legal import.

Internationally, the marijuana legalization controversy has sparked much debate on its potential benefits as well as its potential hindrances to society. South Korea has had a long lasting negative relationship the former Schedule I drug in the past few decades, but in the past year the country has moved towards the international trend of progressiveness in the legalization of medical marijuana. Although the regulations are tightly met surrounding the accessibility of ordinary citizens to receive the medicine, East Asia has little experience with legalizing such a controversial drug and so it is understandable that small precautionary steps were taken before other measures. South Korea, historically being a conservative country has been moving diligently towards being a more progressive and global actor, and the legalization of marijuana is one that has proven significant steps moving in that direction.


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