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A South Korean judge suspended the prison sentences for two US soldiers busted for smuggling weed products into the country. In the case of one servicemember, the judge granted leniency under South Korea's medical cannabis law, which went into effect in 2019.
As reported by the US military's official newspaper, Stars and Stripes, both servicemembers, who were arrested and tried separately, faced 18 months in prison. But on Monday, the Suwon District Court in Suwon City released the results of the sentencing proceedings, revealing that both troops only received suspended sentences on Dec. 2. In other words, neither will do prison time in a country known for being incredibly harsh on drug traffickers.
How harsh, exactly? South Korea is one of 30 nations that imposes the death penalty for drug traffickers, according to Harm Reduction International. However, South Korea hasn't actually executed anyone since 1997, and death sentences for trafficking are largely symbolic there now. (Unlike, say, China, where death sentences for trafficking are very real.)
One servicemember tried to smuggle quite a bit of THC into South Korea. They allegedly brought 30 weed gummies, four vape carts, and even infused bath products onto a flight, presumably purchased somewhere in the US.
The servicemember lucked out, though. Although sneaking THC into the country violates its Narcotics Control Act, the South Korean government passed a limited medical cannabis bill in 2018. The law generally permits medical cannabis products, so long as they're approved by a legit government health agency, South Korean or otherwise. That wasn't the case for the servicemember, but the judge invoked the medical cannabis law anyway to justify suspending their prison sentence.
Basically, the judge determined that the servicemember had genuine “personal reasons” for sneaking weed products into South Korea, “including relieving [their] depression, insomnia and so on," Stars and Stripes reported. The judge also stated that there was no reason to believe the servicemember intended to sell the weed products, which nixed the legal basis for the entire drug trafficking charge.
The second servicemember, busted with two vape cartridges, may have also gotten a suspended sentence for medical-use reasons, too. Stars & Stripes did not specify the reasons behind the second servicemember's ruling.
Additionally, the court did not publicly identify either US soldier by name.
OK, so what's all of this mean? It means the cannabis reform movement is making major headways into Asia, an area known for being incredibly legalistic and conservative, especially when it comes to illict drugs. China and Japan remain utterly anti-weed, but South Korea is taking a cue from Canada and the US by recognizing cannabis's medical properties.
However, South Korea still has nothing on Thailand, the first (and so far, only) Asian nation to officially legalize medical cannabis products. In fact, Thailand is now so pro-weed that the government actually bred its own unique strain, right around the same time the Thai prime minister hit a weed vape pen in front of a swarm of live news cameras.
The times truly are a-changin'.