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OP-ED, Special Features, Original Features

[OP-ED] T.O.P's Marijuana Scandal Highlights Cultural Differences

By Patrick_Magee   Sunday, June 11, 2017   135,438   6,878   0
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On Tuesday, June 6th, 2017, K-pop fans across the world watched as Big Bang member T.O.P.'s marijuana scandal made the transition from a reputation-damager to a genuine threat to wellbeing. Initial press reports indicated that T.O.P. had deliberately taken an excess of some medication and was unconscious.  He did not regain consciousness until June 8th, and it's still unclear exactly what state he is in. This comes following a busy week that saw T.O.P. face intense legal and media scrutiny after it was revealed that he was under investigation for consumption of marijuana, which is illegal and socially frowned upon in South Korea.


The first thing that many Western fans seemed to indicate was the surprise - they never realized that marijuana could be such a "big deal," even with the memories of G-Dragon's scandal fresh in their minds. Plenty of Korean rappers have gotten in trouble for it before with varying degrees of punishment experienced by each, but they're all artists that we still hear from today. Of course, that doesn't mean their punishment was anything like what they might experience in America; it meant time in prison and all sorts of hefty fines - and that's just for the Korean natives.


To understand the differences between Korean and American marijuana policy, you need a combination of the facts and context. Let's start with the facts: In 1976, former President Park Chung-Hee put the Cannabis Control Act into effect, which criminalized the possession and use of the substance in South Korea. This is felt in many ways in modern day Korea, according to Trish Popovitch of website MerryJane:


[Republic of Korea] police officers have the authority to stop anyone on the street and test them for drug use. The most commonly used test is the hair follicle test. This test can detect drug use as far back as three years (depending on various factors including frequency of use and metabolism). In South Korea, it doesn't matter where you took the drug. If THC is detected, arrest is more than likely.


You read that right: even if you're a foreigner coming from a place where marijuana might even be recreationally or medicinally legal, you run the risk of arrest and deportation for simply having it in your system. Not only that - you can be put into a situation where you're forced to submit to a drug test without any probable cause. These laws are heard loud and clear by South Koreans, as the culture is generally against weed and crime statistics related to the drug are generally low (though enforcement is nonetheless thorough). Yet, to foreigners and Koreans with an affinity for the foreign, the laws carry a clear ideological message.


To return to the facts and context, consider the following: aforementioned former president Park Chung Hee achieved his power through a coup. According to Sungkonghoe University communications professor Kim Chang-Nam, Park "wanted to force the nation to follow his ideas." He said that Park was specifically trying to combat Western influence on Korea and that young Koreans influenced by things like western trends and music were "a challenge to [Park's] authority."




In South Korea, both possession and the detection of marijuana in your system carry fines, probation, and prison sentences. Distribution can land you in even more trouble, with some sentences consisting of hard labor. Because of this, people caught with marijuana often offer up the names and information of those they might have done the drug with or received it from, in an attempt to lighten their sentences. This could explain why Big Bang's T.O.P. has suddenly been put under investigation, as the woman he smoked with might have simply been trying to lighten her own load.


As previously mentioned, T.O.P. was far from the only rapper in Korea to experience punishment for involvement with marijuana. Notably, rapper and Seo In Young enthusiast Crown J was arrested and sentenced to 8 months in prison after mere video footage of him consuming marijuana in America hit the Korean side of the internet. Supreme Team member E-Sens has been arrested for weed on 3 different occasions and served prison time as recently as 2016. Rapper Iron also faced scrutiny after being caught with the drug, although based on other recent events, that's the least of his problems. Furthermore, who could forget T.O.P's fellow bandmate G-Dragon's own marijuana scandal, in which he avoided jail time by the skin of his teeth after declaring that he was given the substance without knowing? Even before all this, you can go back to the 90's when SM Entertainment's first artist Hyun Jin Young went to jail for a drug scandal.


To get back to facts - T.O.P.'s current situation simply would not have happened in the United States. To begin, cops don't have the power to simply demand a drug test for someone without probable cause (DUI, for example). Furthermore, in many states, possession of less than 50 grams is treated as a "disorderly person," a charge that carries around 6 months of prison (maximum) and $1000 in fines (maximum). That's without even considering the fact that marijuana cases are often fought in court, as the American justice system allows defendants to reduce or even eliminate fines and prison time with the help of readily available lawyers. Beyond that, in many other states - take California for example - marijuana is legal for recreational use! Others allow it under medicinal circumstances, with rigid regulations in place to manage who's prescribed it, why they're prescribed it, and the amount and type of marijuana distributed for any given condition.




Even in places where recreational marijuana is illegal, attitudes towards it are generally lax in America. Since the cultural revolution of the 1960s, marijuana has been a part of mainstream culture, integrated into music, comedy, film and even video games. Several of our own presidents have admitted to doing it in the past, and some of our biggest pop stars have entire songs dedicated to it. Essentially, unless you're like newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, you understand as an American that weed is just like any other cultural export that you can choose to partake in or disregard for any reason. Though Americans are certainly not universally positive towards weed, the general conversation around it has shifted towards discussing it as a civil liberty like any other.


Indeed, then, a difference between South Korean and American is clear: for whatever Americans have done to celebrities, for whatever hell our war on drugs has inflicted upon urban communities, America is certainly not a country where you would feel like your future is so bleak that you had to overdose on pills after getting caught smoking. T.O.P's current circumstances are an indictment of Korean attitudes towards weed; it's a tragic and frightening situation brought on directly as a result of societal pressures. Non-fans and anti-drug K-poppers will argue that nobody forced T.O.P to take those pills, but they are missing the bigger picture that is the inadequacy of draconian drug policy.


It is certainly important to respect cultural differences and to understand the way that a country's culture came to be how it is. It is important to consider the opinions of others and to be receptive and sensitive towards people who might be facing a topic that comes difficult to them. However, it's also important to show humanity. Whether you agree with the usage of marijuana or not, certainly you can recognize that society is putting an absurd amount of pressure on him, for him to have felt such a way. It's important to consider whether or not you were part of that pressure because it might be time to re-evaluate why you believe what you do.


Change does not come overnight - America is still working through its drug policy in many ways, with different levels of government having opposing ideas about what should be allowed. America's own drug policy and enforcement thereof is not perfect by any means. However, one can only hope for the sake of countless otherwise upstanding, talented, functioning members of Korean society that Korea's attitude towards marijuana lightens up in the future.


SEE ALSO: T.O.P shares and quickly deletes his first Instagram post since controversy

  1. T.O.P
  2. G-Dragon
  3. E-Sens
  4. Crown J
  5. Iron
  6. op-ed


senders127 Monday, June 19, 2017

That was an eloquent explanation for American fans! I knew that South Korean laws were harsh, but not to what extent. Thank you for the information and your opinion!

moonrise Saturday, June 17, 2017

I personally do not feel the need to compare with America. Good things are good things and bad things are bad. They are obviously black and white. Take the good things and eliminate the bad. Americans had and always been doing whatever they feel like doing, so just let them be, as they keep on showing us what not to do. They even legalised guns as pretense for self defense, should we follow them too then?

syafickix Tuesday, June 13, 2017

not going to talk about TOP but, detection up to three years??? is that even necessary? three years is like a span on a person that could consume for some time and finished therapy session altogether while turning on a new leaf. If someone lands on korea and detected drug use more than 2 years ago is it still considered drug abuse?

Leuser syafickix Tuesday, June 13, 2017

If you break laws then there will be punishment. Not sure why everyone is surprised at this fact.

teleri Leuser Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wow, Leuser, you've got the correct name I see! Overtly harsh, overly strict, unnecessarily cruel laws do NOT mete out punishment, they cause persecution.

Fenharel Leuser Saturday, June 17, 2017

If you insist to focus on retributive justice without considering any kind of potential for rehabilitation, don't be surprised if your society is a cesspool of corruption and moral degradation, Leuser.

TzuyuGirl Tuesday, June 13, 2017

and people can compare crime rate in south korea in comparison to america and see understand that south korea law is definitly better to keep the socity more civilized and crimeless , japan follow same system/law against drug use as South korea , and also crime rate in japan is so low

teleri TzuyuGirl Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anti-marijuana laws have about 0% to do w/SK's low crime rate.

Fenharel TzuyuGirl Saturday, June 17, 2017

Whoa, the reach. I hope you're not considering any kind of career in academics.

Reta_Panca Tuesday, June 13, 2017

For me as his fan, I am disappointed with what he did and I can say what he did was wrong.. But I still like him as a rapper, as an actor and as a person.. Well, we all made mistakes.. Best wishes for my TOP.. stay strong

9001reasons Monday, June 12, 2017

Wouldn't that make koreans hypocrites? They don't want to be westernized, but embraces western pop culture because it makes them popular.

1Minoz 9001reasons Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Their society is very conservative, they embrace anything that doesn't affect their conservative view. They used to ban rock music because rockers were too liberal. They used to forbid men to have long hair in the 60s, 70s. I remember Jackie Chan told the story he got almost arrested by the Korean police for having long hair but they let him go because he was a Hong Kong citizen. They even had a law against adultery but they just recently cancelled it in 2015. Adultery was illegal in Korea for a long time. Korea has advanced technology but 1950s mind set.

TzuyuGirl 9001reasons Tuesday, June 13, 2017

no it make them smart not hypocrite , they don't have to follow everything the west do

SicaLicka 9001reasons Tuesday, June 13, 2017

what does western pop culture have to do with their laws?

Hidden_KRD_Kiri TzuyuGirl Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Exactly. S Korea has every right to like Western Pop culture, but doesn't mean they should change their laws to western style too that's nonsense. Of course S. Korea will still uphold their traditional law & values and keep Korean citizens safe from extreme violence etc. They can embrace certain aspects of America, but all of it completely.

teleri SicaLicka Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anti-marijuana laws happened because of Western influence (well, in fact because American military were smuggling marijuana out of Thailand thru SK). IE if America hadn't been conned in the 1930s by corporate interests to make marijuana illegal, SK would never have done so. THAT'S what is being referred to here.

SicaLicka teleri Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Oh!!! i see. . makes sense

Hidden_KRD_Kiri Monday, June 12, 2017

That feeling where knew this information about S. Korea way before reading the article. But for those who didn't know cultural differences between SK/USA when it comes to marijuana and various other drug substances this is definitely a good piece that was covered fairly well in my honest opinion.

NoahL Monday, June 12, 2017

Finally one article that really put in alot of effort to write. Good job.

Noveos_Republic Monday, June 12, 2017

He broke the law. Simple as that. He is solely responsible for his own actions. That being said, I do wish the media would leave him alone.

MinnieT Monday, June 12, 2017

America doesn't need to have all its men combat ready for a possible war. Korea has a generation from the Korean War that saw deaths of 500,000.  It wasn't that long ago. We have to understand they have their reasons. Try to put yourselves in their shoes. Its the same in Israel where all men have to serve in the military. These men in combat need clear heads to possibly protect their own lives and the lives of their countrymen.

minzeliron MinnieT Monday, June 12, 2017

I see what you're saying, but even in America, people enlisted or commissioned must be prepared to pass a random drug test at any given time. That being said, it is possible to have a drug-free, combat ready military without holding the entire country to the same standards.

teleri minzeliron Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I'm very active in the legalize pot campaigns, have been for decades. However, I'm retired Navy - & did NOT use it when in the service cause it was illegal, & we did have random testing. So of course it's possible. BTW the military's biggest 'drug' problem is ALCOHOL. Surprise, surprise....

minzeliron teleri Tuesday, June 13, 2017

South Korea also has widespread alcoholism. I mean, just saying, legalizing marijuana might clean up some of the businessmen passed out on the streets lol

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