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Japan Is Not Open to Marijuana Unlike America

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Formerly an economics and humanities student at UCLA, Oe Kaori is now an intern for the United Nations.



What the Japanese Laws States About Weed

Marijuana is illegal in Japan, and anyone trying to import or grow it from outside Japan faces up to seven years in prison. In Japan, possession or cultivation of marijuana is illegal, and the penalty is a multiple-year prison sentence. The cultivation or sale of the plant can be punishable by a prison sentence of seven years or more.

In Japan cannabis was widely cultivated before becoming illegal prior to 1948. Cannabis was sought after for textiles, ropes, and for religious practices. The Cannabis Control Law took it's strong hold over the plant by the US. Since then, the plant has been frowned upon and discouraged for use.

The Japanese law banning cannabis could still apply to citizens abroad. The Japanese government has warned Japanese nationals abroad that cannabis in Japan is the same as smoking in Canada or the United States. Following the legalization of cannabis in Canada, Japanese authorities have instructed Japanese citizens to exercise caution in other countries and to abide by "Japanese laws" abroad. In October 2018, the Japanese Consulate in Vancouver went so far as to ask its citizens there to continue to respect the law of their home country, but not the law of Canada or the rest of the world. Japanese standards: Those who find themselves anywhere else where cannabis has been legalized for medical or recreational purposes could face up to five years in prison.

Foreigners in Japan must abide by Japanese law in regards to possession of marijuana. If a foreigner is caught possessing, selling, or using the plant they are deported then banned from ever entering the country. Japanese law made an example out of Paul McCartney who was caught with the drug. Sadly, he wasn't allowed back into the country until eleven years passed. The only exception for the 11 years possibly is due to the fact that McCartney is a celebrity. The average foreigner who visits the country and is caught with the drug faces a possible longer or even lifetime ban.

In Japan, CBD products are legal as long as they are made from cannabis strains or seeds and do not contain measurable THC levels. However, marijuana - oil derived from CBD - is illegal in Japan due to its THC content, which can be as high as 14%. In Japan where non-medical marijuana contains more THC than prescribed, employers could terminate employees who test positive for marijuana.


Japan Has a History with Cannabis

Although Japan has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the world, a recent article in the Japan Times shows that the country nevertheless has a long history with the cannabis plant. Cannabis has been central to Japanese culture for thousands of years, "noted the article's author, Dr. Yutaka Yamaguchi, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Tokyo. Japan had long included cannabis in its culture and has long included it in its culture.

Going back through Japanese history one can actually see where marijuana was cultivated. These cultivation are painted on Japanese wood print blocks. So, it's not a secret that Japan has never touched the plant. The Japanese puts on a facade of conservative moral culture that hides it's deeds.

With the burgeoning growth of the cannabis movement in Japan, Japan will lead Asia in shaking off prohibitionist dogmas and revering cannabis as a sacred and useful plant again. The current Japanese government seems to have a good track record of improving the country's cannabis laws, and it is not alone.

Industrial cannabis, also known as hemp, has become more popular recently and is not subject to Japanese cannabis laws, but it has been approved for officially approved research into the potential benefits of the plant in both China and Japan, albeit with limited cultivation. There are legal hemp farms in China and also in the USA, but marijuana remains illegal in China or Japan. But growing cannabis in Japan will not really get people up, and it is not even legal.

While cannabis culture is somewhat of a subculture trend it is actually booming more in America more than any other country in Asia. But for right now, since Japan has strict weed laws it's hard to celebrate or follow the weed trend without being scrutinized.

Ironically, Japan sports its own marijuana mascot named Asamiko. Not only does Japan have a mascot for weed but also a march that took place in 2019. Perhaps the citizens will have to sway the laws enough to gain traction like the West, it's just really difficult to tell. With the younger generation more involved into subcultures it's possible Japanese laws might become relaxed pertaining to marijuana.


Will the Japanese Laws Change for Legalized Cannabis?

Currently, it doesn't seem so, not even for medical use at this time.

Right now Japan doesn't have a medicinal initiative. Otsuka Pharmaceuticals which is a large company, stated back in 2007 that it had gained a license from GW Pharmaceuticals for cannabis research purposes, nonetheless it was only conducted in the United Sates. It didn't pave the way for the plant to become legal in a medical sense, in Japan. In 2015 Otsuka Pharmaceuticals conducted research for cannabis use and cancer patients, which unfortunately the results were inconclusive.

Japanese citizens have spoken in favor for it's use in medicine in the past few years, for example Masamitsu Yamamoto. Yamamoto was caught using the drug in 2015 to relieve pain that was related to his liver cancer. Yamamoto even went as far as petitioning the Japanese government to make it legal for medical use, but before unfortunately he passed away in 2016.

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Another issue is that the drug really isn't that common in use in Japan. People seek out harder more stimulating drugs to abuse. You also have to take into account the social stigma if a Japanese citizen is caught with weed. Their job, family, and friends will look down on them for marijuana use. A lot is at stake for those who want to use the drug in a recreational manner. Any type of drug use in Japan is heavily frowned upon socially in Japan.

In my opinion I don't see it being legalized at all unless enough citizens petition for it to be used. So, with caution and warning if you are visiting Japan leave the weed culture behind in America where it is slightly more normalized than Japan. You may not have the chance to ever come back to the nation in case you are caught with it.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Oe Kaori


Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on October 18, 2020:

It's a little crazy isn't it? I didn't know India was the same way. It's not a hard drug like cocaine or methamphetamine. We had similar trial cases here involving celebrities and weed.

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 18, 2020:

Marijuana is banned in India too but we use the leaves in a drink called Bhang during a festival called Holi. When marijuana was banned, Indians made a big hue and cry about Bhang, so the government allowed it to stay. It is up to individual states whether to ban or restrict its use. There is a big court case trial going at the moment in India involving an actress who has been caught possessing marijuana. This has led to intense debates over the need to legalize it. Many seem to use it on the sly here.

I never knew that Japan's anti-marijuana laws extended to its citizens abroad. Surprising. Wonder which other countries enforce this rule.

"Those who find themselves anywhere else where cannabis has been legalized for medical or recreational purposes could face up to five years in prison." - Does this mean you cannot STAY in a country where marijuana is legalized?

Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on October 17, 2020:

Well our government wants our abroad citizens to put on a good image of the country. I can see how that is absurd like what business is it of my government to monitor my life while on vacation. I understand

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on October 17, 2020:

"abide by "Japanese laws" abroad" - This makes no logical sense. Japanese laws do not extend beyond Japan's borders. Here in Canada we have laws which are for Canada and Canadian laws do not extend into Japan so, how can Japanese laws extend into Canada? This is an affront to logic and decency. It also seems very oppressive.

"they are deported then banned from ever entering the country" - I will keep that in mind. Haha!!

"With the younger generation more involved into subcultures it's possible Japanese laws might become relaxed pertaining to marijuana." - Keep at it and things will change. They always do. No more Samurais walking down the street with common people having to bow to them as they pass by. So, yes things always change.

Is medical cannabis allowed in Japan? That is the first step to take. Then, everyone goes to the doctor and gets a prescription card to use cannabis for anxiety, for eating disorders, for insomnia, etc. After so many people will have a medical cannabis card, it will be much easier to legalize for everyone else. Make small steps and we'll get there, eventually.

Your article reminded me of what a friend who teaches English in South Korea told me: "do not mail me weed!!" Haha!! He explained that authorities take it very seriously there.

The problem is You guys are on an island. It's much harder to get prohibited substances to island countries. It's the same story for the UK, South Korea, Ireland, etc. Harder is not impossible though. Hence, prohibition never works for anything.

Well, thanks for the article! Have a good weekend - cheers!

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