International Dissatisfaction over Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana.

By Kendall O’Connor

In October of 2018, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana, only behind Uruguay. [1] While Canada may be the second country to do so, it is considered the “first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana.”[2]   Canada’s decision to legalize has been opined as “on the edge of a cultural revolution and [a] dramatic social experiment.”[3]

With only time to tell, it is not yet clear how Canada’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana will affect the country’s own citizens. Advocates of the legalization have argued that legalizing, regulating, and restricting access to marijuana will keep the drugs away from underage users, will result in loss of profits for drug-dealers, and will no longer place those from disadvantaged communities into the criminal justice system for a harmless crime.[4] However, the legalization’s avid challengers argue in the opposite, notably contending that the same effects may come into force by “ramp[ing] up criminal enforcement of drug laws outside of a narrowly defined legal market,” or, put shortly, as “relaunching the . . . war on drugs.”[5] While the world may continue to debate and speculate on the secondary effects yet to come into fruition as a result of Canada’s legalization of medical marijuana, South Korea, Japan, and the Russian Federation have already taken a hardline stance on the issue.

Only one short week after Canada’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana, the South Korean government announced that any South Korean citizen partaking in the act of smoking marijuana would “be punished according to Korean law, even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal.”[6] South Korea went so far as to state “[t]here won’t be an[y] exceptions.”[7] Within its own jurisdiction, South Korea has been known for its strict enforcement of drugs laws.[8] South Korea believes it can continue such strict enforcement to South Korean citizens who partake in the legalized smoking of marijuana in Canada because the South Korean law “is based on the concept that laws made in [South Korean] still apply to citizens anywhere in the world . . . even while abroad.”[9]

With approximately 304,000 Japanese residents visiting Canada in 2017, Japan issued a similar statement as South Korea’s shortly after Canada’s decision.[10] The Japanese Consulate in Vancouver stated, “Japan’s laws banning the purchase of cannabis may be applied not only in Japan[,] but also in foreign countries.”[11] Like South Korea, Japan has long held a heavy stigma against the drug.[12]

Both South Korea and Japan’s stance on Canada’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana rest on the countries justice systems imposing “extraterritorial jurisdiction.”[13] Japan and South Korea’s extraterritorial jurisdiction claim, meaning the countries’ laws apply to its citizens even outside the countries themselves, may prove difficult to enforce, however.[14] For example, there are little details as to how the police would test citizens returning from Canada.[15] It does not come as a surprise that neither country believes it can screen every person returning after having visited a foreign country; such a practice would be a practically impossible, extremely difficult and expensive.[16] So, while South Korea and Japan seem to have drawn a hardline stance against its citizens partaking in the use of legalized recreational marijuana while abroad, “experts suggest enforcement would focus more on drug traffickers than casual users.”[17]

The Russian Federation, seemingly siding with South Korea and Japan, posted a statement clearly asserting its dissatisfaction with Canada’s decision, calling the decision “unacceptable and hypocritical.”[18] Russia alleged Canada’s act “contravene[d] international jurisdiction on narcotics control,” and “warned Canada was ignoring the consequences of its actions for the integrity of international law.” While Russia may be correct, the United Nations, the “body that governs international drug control,”[19] has stated their disappointment of Canada’s decision, but has yet to decide whether Canada is in violation of any international treaties.[20]

Regardless of the international pushback, Canada has held firm on its decision to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. As a result of such resilience, Canada’s Cannabis Act, which went into law as of October 17, 2018, created a “strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis.”[21]  In addition to the limits of legal marijuana possession, the Act notably contains numerous additional provisions to ensure effectiveness, success, and ameliorate potential adverse secondary effects. For example, the Act “has several measures that help prevent youth from accessing cannabis, “ which including “both age restrictions and restricting promotion of cannabis.”[22] The Act also aims to “protect[] public health through creating strict safety and quality regulations[,] [i]n addition [to] public education efforts . . . to raise awareness about safety measures and any potential health risks.”[23]

In conclusion, the world will continue to look to Canada in the coming years as a sort of social experiment. While Canada has and may continue to receive pushback for its decision, only time will tell what will come as a result of Canada’s Cannabis Act.

[1] Dan Bilefsky, Legalizing Recreational Marijuana, Canada Begins a National Experiment, N.Y. Times (Oct. 17, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] Ian Austen et al., Canada is Legalizing Marijuana. Here Are Some Questions. Answered., N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018),

[4] Daniel Weinstock & Andrew Potter, The red flags ahead of Canada’s marijuana legalization, Globe and Mail (April 22, 2018),

[5] Id.

[6] Benjamin Haas, Bong arm of the law: South Korea say it will arrest citizens who smoke weed in Canada, Guardian (Oct. 23, 2018),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Ryan Flanagan, Japanese, South Korean citizens banned for using legal port in Canada, CTV News (Oct. 23, 2018),

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Haas, supra note 6.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Marie-Danielle Smith, South Korean warnings and Russian scorn: How the world reacted to pot legalization in Canada, Nat’l Post (Oct. 23, 2018),

[19] Id.

[20] Albert Van Santvoort, Canada’s cannabis ‘high-handedness’ raises international disapproval, BIV (June 26, 2018),

[21] Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, Canada Dep’t of Justice, (last visited Nov. 12, 2018).

[22] Id.

[23] Id.