If you're planning a trip to Korea and wondering if weed is legal, the answer is no.
In Korea, weed is considered a narcotic, alongside substances like cocaine and heroin. Possession can lead to fines or up to five years in prison, while distribution carries severe penalties, including life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Regardless of your home country's laws, weed remains illegal in Korea. If caught, you'll face Korean law's repercussions. Respect local regulations and refrain from bringing illegal substances into the country.
Legality of Cannabis in South Korea
Historical Context and Laws
South Korea has a long history of strict drug laws, which can be traced back to the 1957 Narcotics Act.
This law prohibits the cultivation, production, distribution, and possession of opium, marijuana, and other narcotics.
In 1976, the Cannabis Control Act was introduced, which further strengthened the prohibition of cannabis in the country.
Current Legal Status and Regulations
As of 2024, cannabis is still illegal in South Korea. The Narcotics Control Act classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which means that it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
The possession, sale, and use of cannabis are all punishable by fines and imprisonment.
South Korean law enforcement authorities have been cracking down on drug crimes in recent years, including those related to cannabis.
In 2022, for example, the popular K-pop singer T.O.P and rapper Crown J were both prosecuted for marijuana use.
Penalties for Violation
If you are caught possessing cannabis in South Korea, you could face fines of up to 50 million won (about $42,000 USD) and up to five years in prison. If you are caught selling or trafficking cannabis, the penalties are even more severe, with fines of up to 200 million won (about $168,000 USD) and up to life imprisonment.
Medical Cannabis and International Perspectives
Medical Use and Approved Medications
The use of medical cannabis has been a topic of discussion in many countries around the world, including South Korea. While recreational cannabis remains illegal in the country, the use of medical cannabis has been allowed in certain circumstances.
In 2018, South Korea approved the use of Epidiolex, a medication containing CBD, for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy.
Other medications containing THC, such as Marinol and Sativex, have also been approved for medical use in other countries. However, the use of these medications in South Korea is still restricted.
Comparative Analysis with Other Countries
The global debate over cannabis legalization varies widely. South Korea strictly prohibits recreational use but has begun exploring medical applications, allowing certain marijuana-based medications.
Compared to North Korea, where cannabis is reportedly more accessible for medicinal use, South Korea maintains a conservative approach. Efforts are underway to permit hemp cultivation for industrial use and expand medical cannabis access.
Oversight by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety ensures strict regulation, although designated zones offer opportunities for hemp cultivation without restriction. Overall, while South Korea cautiously explores medical cannabis, recreational use remains strictly prohibited.