More foreign nationals residing, working, studying and visiting weed-legal Canada are receiving warnings from their home countries to avoid cannabis at all costs. So far, consulates and embassies have issued a range of warnings to their country’s citizens abroad. And while several seem simply to be urging caution and an awareness of Canada’s cannabis laws, other foreign offices are warning overseas citizens that possessing and consuming legal cannabis in Canada still amounts to a criminal liability back home. Those countries are warning their citizens not to smoke weed in Canada.
In the lead up to and in the immediate aftermath of the October 17 implementation of Canada’s Cannabis Act, foreign offices representing Mexico, the U.K., Germany, China, Japan, South Korea, France, and Malaysia have all issued statements regarding the legalization of cannabis. But so far, only Japan and South Korea are warning their nationals abroad not to smoke weed in Canada due to the possibility of legal repercussions when they return home.
Since the late 1950s, South Korea has taken a strict prohibitionist stance against cannabis, outlawing both adult and medical use. The country’s most recent legislation against weed, the Cannabis Control Act, was passed in 1976 by the military dictator President Park Chung-hee. And on the eve of legalization in Canada, South Korean law enforcement officials reminded South Koreans abroad that for them, the Cannabis Control Act isn’t just the law of the land, but of the entire world.
“Weed smokers will be punished according to the Korean law, even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal,” Yoon Se-jin, head of the Narcotics Crime Investigation Division at the Gyeonggi Nambu provincial police agency, told the Korea Times. “There won’t be an exception.”
The Japanese consulate in Canada echoed the sentiments of South Korean officials. In the lead up to legalization, the consulate issued repeated warnings to its citizens that Japan’s laws against cannabis possession and use may apply to them even in Canada.
Instead of a prohibitive approach and threats of criminal prosecution, foreign offices of other world countries are trying to prepare citizens with information and guidance. Mexico’s embassy in Canada, for example, are working on a document for Mexican tourists to help them navigate Canada’s legal weed laws. Germany is taking a similar approach, but also reminding nationals abroad about laws in their home country. Both countries have issued no warning about potential legal consequences.
The U.K. and China are urging slightly more caution. They’re warning citizens abroad that there are still ways to violate Canada’s legal cannabis laws. Those violations, the Chinese and U.K. consulates warn, could lead to deportation and therefore legal consequences back home.
In fact, one common thread between all of these warnings to citizens abroad is the focus on the possibility of deportation. Canada can deport any foreign national who violates national or provincial laws. Given the uneven development of Canada’s licensed dispensary market, the preponderance of unlicensed growers and sellers, and the patchwork of rules of regulations across different provinces, there are still plenty of ways for cannabis consumers to find themselves afoul of the law. For visitors and those living in Canada from other places, violations can come with extra consequences not just in Canada, but back home.
Warnings and admonitions are one thing. But enforcing laws in other nations is easier said than done. And even Japanese and South Korean officials have acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing their country’s cannabis laws in Canada. In other words, it’s unlikely citizens abroad will face consequences for weed back home unless they either get caught in Canada or make it easy—say via social media—for law enforcement to identify cannabis use.
Crossing Canada’s international borders with cannabis, however, is a surefire way to face legal and criminal trouble. Aware that cannabis is now legal in Canada, border officers on both sides of the line are on heightened alert for drug trafficking. So if you’re abroad in Canada, just make sure there’s not any stray cannabis hanging out in the bottom of your bag when it’s time to leave.