Japan, Korea & China tell students lose pot or face legal risk

Exchange students may face stiff consequences for cannabis consumption in Canada

4/20 celebrations at Parlaiment Hill in 2015.

China, South Korea, and Japan want their international students to just say no.

The countries’ embassies have issued a warning to exchange students, advising them to refrain from smoking cannabis after its legalization in Canada last month. The countries still prohibit the substance’s consumption, often carrying stiff penalties for its possession and use.

Hinano Kobayashi, an exchange student from Housei University in Tokyo, told The Journal that after the warning she received in October, she doesn’t want to risk the legal consequences of consuming cannabis.

According to the email, Japanese students who consume cannabis while studying in Canada will be the target of punishment.

“I’m scared about what they mean by target of punishment,” Kobayashi said. “It’s so vague, and I should just refrain from using [cannabis].”

When Kobayashi came to Canada this fall, she was surprised by the difference in drug culture.

“I was so surprised,” she said. “It was just so strange because we were taught in school [cannabis] is so bad. Don’t use it because your body will get destroyed and addicted to it and your whole life will end.”

“But then, [in Canada], there were people smoking weed on the street everywhere,” she added. “I could smell it everywhere.”

After witnessing Canada’s more open attitude towards cannabis consumption, Kobayashi said her perspective about drugs changed.

“At first, I thought [cannabis] was so bad too, and [those who use it] should be punished because it’s illegal in Japan,” she said.

But now that I see a lot of people smoking weed, I don’t understand why we have to be punished. I think legalization in Canada brought doubts,” she said. “It’s so strict in Japan [and] I don’t get why they’re so strict.”

Henry Yeonsu Jeong, ArtSci ’19, told The Journal there’s also a strict attitude about cannabis consumption in South Korea. 

“Since the republic of Korea is a country with a low crime rate, they are also going to be taking stronger measures against those convicted of such crimes,” he said.

While he’s been a Canadian citizen for four years, Jeong regularly visits South Korea to see his family and believes the warnings from embassies are “a diplomatically appropriate measure.”

“It is about keeping things stable and in good relations,” Jeong said. 

To encourage a good relationship between Canada and South Korea, Jeong said international students should be careful while studying in Canada.

“As long as you don’t make things obvious, as long as you don’t say too much and don’t say unnecessary things, you should not be in trouble,” he said.

“Just avoid anything to do with cannabis and don’t say anything stupid,” he continued. “It’s about common sense, it’s about respecting the country’s customs and not getting in trouble.”

Unlike Kobayashi and Jeong, Lily Jiang, ArtSci ’19, doesn’t think cannabis consumption while studying in Canada is a big deal. 

She grew up in China, and also received an email from her embassy on Nov. 14. 

The embassy warned students to “behave well while you are studying in North America and say no to weed,” according to the email. 

But while her parents are worried, Jiang told The Journal for her, “nothing’s really changed.”

She also doesn’t believe an exchange student from China would be punished for consuming cannabis while studying in Canada, and believes the embassy’s email was simply a reminder to avoid doing so in the US. 

“[Students] can use it,” she said regarding cannabis consumption. 

“It doesn’t matter.”

Corrections

This article incorrectly stated the length of Jeong's citizennship. He has been a Canadian citizen for four years, not 10. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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