There Will Be No Toking in Tokyo
As much of the world relaxes marijuana laws, Japan just says no.
Living in the United States, it can be frustrating to watch politicians attempt to get their act together on legalizing cannabis. But at least there's a chance it will happen soon.
That's not the case in Japan.
Japanese leaders have not just maintained a tough stance on marijuana. They've gotten tougher. Law enforcement has increased the number of marijuana-related arrests (a pattern that continues in some parts of the U.S., where the number of marijuana arrests outpaces arrests for violent crimes). And the Japanese government actively battles the dissemination of pro-cannabis information from other countries.
"The Japanese legal system takes a particularly hardline stance against drugs, and even the possession of a small amount of marijuana is generally treated as a major crime," according to Japan Today.
Even with the medical marijuana change, officials strengthened other laws
The country only recently began to deliberate on allowing cannabis in medications. But even that tiny step forward seems monumental. The new regulations in Japan will allow the use of cannabis only for a limited set of medical conditions, what the country deems "legitimate medical purposes." But in all other areas, the government has sought to suppress marijuana use.
Possession and cultivation of marijuana remain crimes in Japan, and officials have talked about strengthening recreational cannabis laws. For example, the country's Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare is considering making the act of smoking weed itself illegal. Even without any further changes, most expect arrests for marijuana possession and use to reach new highs in 2021.
In a 2019 incident, the parents of a 15-year-old girl in Kyoto called emergency workers when the girl became agitated. At the hospital, a urine test revealed the girl had smoked cannabis recently. The girl's Mom searched her room and found seven grams of marijuana.
The girl told officials she used marijuana because of stress and an inability to sleep sparked by family troubles. But police arrested her for violating Japan's Cannabis Control Law.
CBD might be a different story
Studies have shown that hemp-derived CBD, which contains little to no THC, provides medical benefits that include anti-aging properties and combatting sleep disorders. Because it does not cause people to get high, the U.S. Congress legalized it nationwide in 2018 when they legalized hemp. According to the New York Times, the same currently holds in Japan because of loopholes in regulations.
For entrepreneurs looking to crack into the Asian market, CBD may offer an opportunity. Analysts expect the Japanese market for CBD to reach $800 million by 2024.
But the Asian market is far behind much of the rest of the world regarding marijuana regulations. For example, the Japanese government licenses only 20 farms to grow hemp.
And the penalties for marijuana possession and use go beyond the letter of the law. Those who get arrested run the risk of getting fired or kicked out of school. There's also potentially harsh public judgment. "In Japan, people are much more likely to question someone who breaks a rule than question the rule itself," Michiko Kameishi, a defense lawyer and legalization advocate in Osaka, told the New York Times.