Japan remains tough on marijuana as other nations slack off

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In June, the panel’s final report attempted to divide the difference. On the one hand, he recommended regulating the chemicals in cannabis, rather than its leaves and buds, as is currently the case. In theory, the change would make it easier to import products containing only traces of THC, the main molecule responsible for the intoxicating properties of marijuana.

The report also recommended allowing testing of cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals, such as Epidiolex, a CBD-based anti-seizure drug. (Japan requires all drugs to be nationally tested.) However, it did not mention medical marijuana.

Still, the main purpose of the report was to curb the spread of marijuana, including making it a crime to use it. Under the current legal regime, he said, people “are probably getting the message that ‘using marijuana is okay’.”

The recent crackdown on marijuana has raised concerns about the government’s overbreadth.

In September 2020, authorities in Tokyo detained two people for 20 days for posting articles about marijuana on social media and encouraging others to try it. When New York City legalized marijuana in March, the Japanese consulate warned Japanese people to stay away or face potential legal consequences at home.

Drug arrests have nearly doubled in the past five years, surpassing 5,000 in 2020 for the first time, according to police data. This year is set to be much higher.

Sanctions in Japan are generally light. Yet those arrested often risk being fired or expelled from school, according to Michiko Kameishi, defense attorney and legalization lawyer in Osaka.

Society can be ruthless. “In Japan, people are much more likely to question someone who breaks a rule than to question the rule itself,” she said.


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