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The End of the Drug War

In some countries, such as the United States and Mexico, where drugs are legally allowed, crimes, accidents and incidents related to drugs take place continuously. In Korea, widely known as a drug-free country by banning the people from drugs legally, lately the news about drug inhalation, sales suspicion, and drug smuggling by many celebrities are popping up in public. Therefore, more and more people are getting interested in drugs. Also there comes a debate about whether the level of drug punishment in Korea should be changed. How is Korea coping with drugs?


What are drugs?

According to a dictionary, drugs are all of the substances that show symptoms of addiction if you take a long time. A drug can be used in medical area but also can be used an item of personal preference. There are many kinds of drugs, such as methamphetamine(also called as meth), cannabis(marijuana, weed), heroin, morphine and so on.

Then, why are drugs problematic? Because there are lots of personal problems caused by drugs, including physical pain, mental illness and material loss. If you take drugs, you may experience serious side effects. For example, all functions of the body can get weak, and brain cells can be destroyed. Also those who take drugs can experience hallucinations, forgetting oneself and not having the right emotions. In addition to those physical and mental problems, there can be another crisis in one’s materials. A pack of cannabis(0.5g) is 1500 won. Only one pill of ecstasy is 40,000won and a dose of methamphetamine is 100,000won. (However, the real drug price is not well known since drugs are covertly traded.) If you take cannabis (marijuana), it destroys your mind, the brain tissue, and the central nervous system. This can cause a difficulty in thinking, delusions, excitement, decreased attention, and changes in sense of time and space, resulting in mental impairment of time and motor neuropathy. Physical problems that can be caused by taking cannabis are toxic infections, bone marrow destruction, hearing and visual impairment.

In addition, there are also social problems. First of all, drug addiction deteriorates the atmosphere of society. As well as, it makes conflicts between family members or friends and makes the taker feel like a loser in society. And if a drug taker is a public figure, it affect others as if it is a kind of trend or a ‘cool’ thing to do, which can lead to a growing number of drug users.


Drugs in Korea

Literally it is a crime itself to take drugs in Korea, as well as manufacturing and selling. Drug takers can be punished even if they have experienced and possessed drugs in a country that is not illegal. Since 2000, the distribution of drugs has started to increase rapidly, but it was mainly distributed through clubs and nightlife. Korea could have been considered as a drug-clean country by then, but lately drug distribution cases are increasing rigorously. In recent years, a number of new drugs have been circulated such as "God's tears", which is a liquid hemp-based drug. In those situations, many entertainers have  committed drug related crimes.

 T.O.P from K-pop boy group, Big Bang (Choi Seung-hyun) was put on probation for two years and imposed fines for smoking marijuana. He was deprived of his status as a conscripted policeman and instead has been serving as a social service agent in Yongsan-gu until now. Park Bom of 2NE1, Yun chul-jong from 10cm, a famous chef Lee Chan-ho, an actor Han Ju-wan and others also suffered from the controversy of drugs. Still more celebrities are getting caught in drug-related problems.

And there was a big drug related case, called drug queen or Iris. A 'Drug Queen' (Ms. Ji) in Korea has been known as ‘Iris', which is involved in numerous drug accidents and incidences online. The prosecution says the woman has sent drugs to Korea at least hundreds of millions of won. In June 2016, the prosecution cooperated with the American law enforcement authorities to arrest Ji in Los Angeles. However, Ms. Ji is still in the United States after the sentence of 2 years since the trial about her illegal stay in the United States is under way. The Korean prosecution believes that the domestic staff members led by Ji during the past two years have destroyed the evidence and that they have been implicated. Last year, more than 14,000 drug trafficking cases were reported to the Korean law enforcement authorities. Many of these cases are small-scale direct transactions through the drug dealers or organizations overseas. Many people insist that it is necessary to establish a systematic way to prevent drug proliferation by taking an in-depth look into other countries where the government has got their own way to deal with all drug-related crimes.

If so, how is Korea punishing those criminals? Those who commit a crime against the Drugs Act (such as inhalation) are imprisoned for 7 years or longer. Likewise those who import, export, possess or own the raw materials for the purpose of producing drugs receive the same sentence. If it happened for any commercial purposes, the punishment or penalty might get as serious as the death penalty or an  imprisonment of more than 10 years. There are some countries where drugs are legitimate. However, if Korean takes any kind of drug in the country where the drugs are allowed, the person will be penalized under the nationality principle. On the contrary, even if someone did the act in violation of the Anti-Narcotics Control Law in Korea and fled to a legitimate country, it would be repatriated and punished by the criminal extradition agreement.


Why are the drug-related crimes increasing in Korea?

First, it is because of the evolution of its supply routes. According to the crackdown on smuggled drugs in 2017, the total number of narcotics detected in last year was 429 and 69.1kg (market value of 88 billion won) and the number of those cases was increased by 12% from the previous year(38% increased). Drugs that are distributed domestically are not produced in Korea. Most of the drugs were made in foreign countries and were smuggled into Korea. There are many ways of bringing in drugs, such as using condoms and vinyl and there are many cases such as a ship warehouse, a golf case, a coffee machine and a computer monitor. What was worse is the method of smuggling drugs through the diluted water is preferred recently. In Korea, there are many new drugs such as cannabis, methamphetamine, ecstasy and others. Drugs imported into Korea are traded through SNS and delivered through quick service. This kind of online transaction is activated, so it is inclined that drug trafficking of teenagers is naturally increasing. There are many reasons for the rapid increase of domestic drug inflows. First it is because the international drug organizations are concentrating on Korea since the circulation condition of Korea is easy. Also, the development of SNS as well as the Internet makes it easier for drug trafficking among individuals, which is why the drug infusion and distribution are so easy.

Second reason is comparatively less punishment than other foreign countries. For instance, China, a close country, is the country where imposes legal controls on drug related crimes the most. According to Article 347 of the Criminal Code of China, when smuggling, selling, transporting or producing more than 1 kg of opium or more than 50 grams of methamphetamine or heroin, the criminal should get imprisonment for more than 15 years, imprisonment for death or imprisonment and confiscation of property. Even, there are no exceptions for foreigners. Until now, five Koreans have been executed for drug - related crimes. In Beijing, China, a large number of Koreans are still involved in drug trafficking, manufacturing, and transportation. Currently, there are six executors who are arrested and imprisoned for drug trafficking by Chinese authorities and are condemned to death and awaiting executions.

Besides in China, there have been 247 drug offenders in Singapore over the past decade, 100 of drug traffickers in Malaysia are now awaiting execution, and in 2001, 60 drug traffickers were executed, including three foreigners in Vietnam. Like the preceding countries, in United Kingdom, criminals who took or had drugs are sentenced to up to 7 years in prison or fined. And for criminals who transported or trafficked are sentenced to the life imprisonment. Although the actual rate of drug use in Korea is expected to increase from 12% in 2010 to 23% in 2011, 41.8% in 2012, 44.1% in 2013 and 34.3% in 2014, most cases are punishable by imprisonment for one to three, which can be considered weak compared to other countries. Therefore, a lot of Koreans insist that Korea need to impose more powerful punishment on drug related criminals.


Then, how to decrease drug-related crimes in Korea?

First, we have to impose more powerful punishment on the criminals. The recidivism rate of drug related crimes is 38%. That means that 4 out of 10 people commit drug trafficking again. The punishment on drug crime in Korea is light compared to neighbor countries. Many experts suggest that mild drug crime punishment increases drug related crimes by reducing drug awareness. So, Korea needs more severe punishment to make people aware of drug crime and decrease drug related crimes.

Secondly, Korea needs a crackdown on new drugs. The Korea Customs Service conducted the New Drug Enforcement Competency Workshop with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the Asia Pacific Regional Information Center for 3 days from April 10, 2018, to raise public awareness and enhance the capacity of customs officers in Asia Pacific. New drugs have been made of new chemical structures that have not been used to avoid crackdown in each country, and they have been spreading around the world for the last 10 years. The Customs Service will strengthen the close cooperation network with foreign customs offices, international organizations and relevant organizations at home and abroad in order to prevent increasing smuggling of drugs.

Thirdly, we should reinforce the education to raise the public awareness of drugs. Despite the increasing number of training programs about drug trafficking prevention, the Korea National Assembly point out that there is a growing demand for drug crime. According to the data submitted by the National Health and Welfare Committee, Yang Seung-jo, from the Korea Anti-Drug Headquarters and the National Police Agency, the education to prevent teenagers from drugs was increased by 12.8%, but the drug related juvenile delinquency was increased by 178% during the same period. On the other hand, according to the data of the "State of Drugs on Youth Drug" submitted by Korea National Police Agency, in the last 3 years, the drug crime rate of teenagers was increased from 27% in 2012 to 43% in 2013 to 75% in 2014(an increase of 177.8% over three years). The number of teenagers arrested by July 2015 was 65, 97 percent higher than last year(33%). Drugs are addictive and we all need to be educated from our early age so that we can avoid any kind of social loss in advance.


Drugs have historically sickened the world. Drugs harm not only all the individuals, but also the society, with its powerful addictive and momentary pleasures. Before our society falls into the dangers of drug, society must give more attention to make awareness of drugs through the education, more powerful punishment, and the scrutiny of drugs. In addition we, as members of the society, must be careful not to fall into the dark way of drugs.

박현지  lilylondon97@gmail.com

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