For much of the past two decades, South Korea hasn’t been an ideal place for fans of cannabis and CBD. There has been no shortage of high-profile K-pop stars and K-drama actors receiving warnings, fines, and even jail time for indulging in their love of weed.
Although attitudes have softened in the past five years ago or so, simply being associated with cannabis in any form was enough to completely derail your career in South Korea, which is exactly what happened to Kim Bu-Seon, the awarding-winning actress who was arrested for smoking pot back in 1989. Her career almost immediately flatlined, and the starlet waged a one-woman campaign to legalize the drug across South Korea, even going so far as to file a petition to Korea’s Constitutional Court in 2004, claiming that her arrest infringed upon her human right to pursue happiness and “evade excessive punishment”.
While her own dogged attempts may have been met with little success, recent news on marijuana legalization is sure to have put a smile on her face. As of mid-2019, it is now legal for certain cannabis products to be used and prescribed for medicinal purposes across all of South Korea. While the laws stipulate that all cannabis products must be low in THC, which is the active psychoactive substance in marijuana, this landmark legislation means that South Korea became the first country in Asia to make any steps towards legalizing cannabis.
It also means that full-blown legalization may even occur in the near future, although there are currently no such bills sitting in the Korean National Assembly. What the bill does mean for Koreans is that high CBD products such as Ruderalis CBD, a naturally-occurring low-THC product that is used for treating depression, chronic pain, and cancer, will be allowed into the country and available to patients for certain medicinal purposes.
When legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana products of this kind, Korean lawmakers acknowledged that a “shift in the national mood” had prompted them to take a more positive approach toward legalization. It is clear that attitudes to cannabis, especially among South Korea’s socially liberal youth, have changed dramatically in recent years.
This attitude is perhaps best reflected by the many Korean stars that had previously fallen afoul of South Korea’s punitive legal environment. The global K-pop sensation Psy, of ‘Gangnam Style’ fame, caused a minor scandal in his home country when footage emerged of him smoking a joint back in 2012. Similarly, the rapper and actor Crown J, who appeared in season 1 of We Got Married, received a several-week prison sentence after being caught blazing up on the streets of Seoul a few years back.
Perhaps most famously, the singer and actor T.O.P received a two-year probation sentence after revealing he had smoked up several times throughout 2016. What’s notable about these recent events is that none of the people involved saw their careers suffer as a result.
In a country that once held extremely conservative attitudes towards drug use of any kind, it’s now clear that future Korean stars can expect a more relaxed reception next time they reveal their love of the green stuff.