[FOCUS] First civic campaign to legalize medical use of marijuana in S. Korea

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2017-06-29 15:52 Updated : 2017-06-29 15:52
글씨작게 글씨크게

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Smoking marijuana is not a big problem in the United States but South Korea maintains "zero tolerance". Cannabis is illegal under any circumstances and violators go to prison like BIGBANG member TOP who became the latest target of public criticism for inhaling the banned substance.

TOP's case raised public awareness and debate over the medical use of marijuana. His lawyer argued the singer had received medical treatment for his "panic disorder and depression" and smoked marijuana due to psychological disturbances and extreme stress.

Smoking or consuming marijuana could be sentenced to less than five years in prison. There has been a strong public demand for TOP's permanent exit from the entertainment scene.

The Korea Cannabis Headquarters, a civic group led by Kang Sung-seok, launched a campaign to legalize the medical use of cannabis for the first time in South Korea. "I was searching for a safe medicine to ease my chronic back pain and I came across the medical cannabis," the 39-year-old pastor told Aju News.

"Normally, strong narcotics based on opium are prescribed to ease chronic pains but such medicines have side effects like hallucinations and organ failures," he said. "Then I found out that cannabis is widely used to treat a variety of illnesses around the world and it has almost no side effect."

The pastor urges the government to ease its "zero tolerance" policy and allow the medical use of cannabis. His campaign is also aimed at changing a public perception. "Many South Koreans think cannabis is highly addictive and toxic. Through many types of research and tests, it is found to have a strong medicinal effect and almost no addiction."

Cannabis products made in the form of pills, drinks, injection and smoke have been used widely abroad to treat illnesses such as glaucoma, asthma, arthritis, and to slow down progress in Alzheimer's disease and growth of cancer cells. It's not clear, however, how much the public will listen to Kang's notion as many people in South Korea still regard marijuana as a harmful and addictive substance as seen in TOP's case.

The singer was found unconscious after overdosing sedatives earlier this month and sent to an intensive care unit where he had been in a state of lethargy for two days. With his military service suspended, TOP stood trial while receiving psychiatric treatment.

At Thursday's hearing, TOP apologized and called for mercy. "I extend my sincere apology to many of you who have been hurt and disappointed by my activity," the 29-year-old said in a statement. Prosecutors demanded a 10-month prison sentence with a stay of execution for two years. TOP's lawyer called for a fine saying the singer was fully repentant.

TOP was charged with smoking marijuana four times at his home with a 21-year-old singer trainee in October last year, a few months before he joined the boot camp. The verdict will come on July 20.

Park Sae-jin = swatchsjp@ajunews.com