With a shocking spike in the number of illegal drug use cases, South Korea is no longer a safe haven against substances. And the ROKA (Republic of Korea Army) has been battling the rise of drug use on the bases since 2018.
According to an official report of data from 2018 to 2022, released by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, ROKA handled 26 court cases involving soldiers abusing substances. This number, as exclusively reported by Kookmin Ilbo, does not include non-indicted, transferred, and ongoing cases.
In 2019, a staff sergeant (Sergeant A)—serving a base located in Paju city—ordered 34 cannabis seeds online and received the package on base. Sergeant A then sprouted the seeds in his dorm unit using grow lights. Eventually, Sergeant A cultivated his cannabis plants on a patch of land near the base.
When arrested in February 2020, the case revealed that Sergeant A had not only been smoking the harvested marijuana but also consuming them as edibles. Sergeant A made “cannabutter” using the leaves and the stems from his full-grown cannabis plants. He is said to have consumed the drug-laced butter with bagels. The court sentenced Sergeant A to two years in prison, though with a probation period of four years. His seeds, plants, and butter were all confiscated by the legal authorities.
The same year, another corporal (Corporal B) was tried and found guilty for sneaking methamphetamine into the base. According to the report, Corporal B had been “saving up” a substantial amount of methamphetamine before enlisting. Even after enlisting, he used his vacations off the base to make four more rounds of purchases. He was able to sneak his stash of methamphetamine in his bag as he made his return to base. Corporal B hid the stash inside his locker in his dorm unit for 36 days before finally getting caught.
Corporal B was sentenced to a year in prison, with a two year probation period. Just as for Sergeant A and Corporal B, most drug-related cases have led to “real punishment.” The report revealed that, out of the 26 completed cases in the past five years, only two were executed to actual imprisonment without probation. Since the report, ROKA is inevitably facing criticism for being lenient with the soldiers involved when it is evident that the bases are facing a massive drug problem.
ROKA, however, is not the only branch of service struggling with drugs. The Navy and the Air Force are also amid their own drug battles. Between 2018 to June 2022, all branches of the South Korean military saw 74 cases involving the abuse of illegal substances. In the first half of 2022 alone, eight enlisted soldiers across the branches went under investigation for drug use.
Member Jun Joo Hyae of the South Korean National Assembly expressed deep concern regarding the war on drugs happening on the bases and demanded for better management and stronger enforcement of patrol.
These service bases are becoming blind spots in the national effort to prevent the increase of drug crimes. It is crucial that the Korean military does a better job at patrolling the bases and enforcing stronger regulations against drugs and a more strict management of the soldiers.
— Jun Joo Hyae