CJ heir charged with smuggling THC edibles

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CJ heir charged with smuggling THC edibles

The chaebol heir caught attempting to smuggle liquid marijuana into Korea on a flight from the United States on Sunday was also carrying food items infused with the same narcotic, commonly known as edibles, according to prosecutors on Tuesday.

Lee Sun-ho, the only son of CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, was stopped by customs officers at Incheon International Airport shortly after his plane from Los Angeles arrived at around 4:55 a.m. on Sunday. They found dozens of cartridges containing liquid THC, a cannabis product that is vaped from an e-cigarette in Lee’s checked luggage, as well as candy that had been infused with marijuana oil or butter. In total Lee was found to be carrying more than 50 items that contained THC.

Traces of THC were found in Lee’s urine following a drug test and prosecutors booked him for illegal drug use and possession without detention, a prosecutor said.

The decision to release the chaebol scion unsurprisingly generated criticism among a public highly sensitive to unlawful behavior from the rich and powerful.

Currently, the grandsons of Hyundai and SK Groups’ founders are in detention, after being arrested in April on charges of purchasing and using liquid THC, which raises questions about why Lee was released when he faces an even more serious charge for attempting to smuggle drugs through an international border.

Considerably less pungent and therefore more concealable than its plant form, liquid THC is the extract of the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, which is dissolved in solvents like oils. Such form of THC can be smoked using a vape pen or eaten via food made with infused oils or butter.

While products using THC are a big market in many places in the United States and Europe where recreational marijuana use is legal, Korea has very stringent laws against narcotics that can land those who are convicted of consumption up to five years of jail time - even if they used drugs abroad before entering the country.

Last year, authorities confiscated a total of 133 cartridges of liquid THC, equivalent to around 1,995 grams (70 ounces) or 266 doses, according to prosecutors. Official statistics show a major increase in drug smuggling last year, with 660 cases of people trying to bring illicit substances into the country, an increase from 2017 when there were 429 cases.

For CJ Group, which in recent years has been working to facilitate Lee’s takeover of the company’s reins from his father, the drug charges present a major setback to that process.

After graduating from Columbia University in New York City with a degree in finance, Lee entered CJ CheilJedang in 2013 and worked at the company’s BIO department before recently moving to the food marketing strategy department.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK AND SHIM SEOK-YONG [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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