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Japanese Ministry of Health to Discuss Medical Cannabis Legalization

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare convened on May 25th to start discussions about lifting the ban against medical cannabis in order to provide relief for patients suffering from refractory seizures.

According to The Asahi ShimbunThe ministry could revise this law in the summer. Japanese law currently prohibits any possession or cultivation of any part of cannabis, including “the spikes, leaves, roots and ungrown stalk of the cannabis plant.”

The Asahi Shimbun references that of the “Group of Seven,” or the seven countries with the most advanced economies, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Japan has the most restrictive approach to marijuana regulation and prohibition. A report by the Japanese ministry in August 2021 suggested that Japan should follow other countries’ lead and permit medical cannabis to patients.

Although the minister is currently discussing the inclusion of a section to the Cannabis Control Law which would prohibit medical cannabis consumption becoming grounds for prosecution, the agency seeks to criminalize more recreational cannabis.

Although it is illegal to grow cannabis, certain Japanese marijuana cultivators are permitted to plant hemp. shimenawaThis is a rope commonly found at shrines. There are no punishments for these cultivators, for fear that the production of the ropes may include “unintentionally inhaling substances of marijuana.” However, this assumption was disproven when no farmers’s urine tests came back positive for cannabis in a survey conducted in 2019.

The Asahi Shimbun writes that some experts believe the law should provide treatment options for “those addicted to marijuana to prevent repeat offenses,” which mainly includes Japanese youth.

In December 2021, Japanese gaming company Capcom allowed the use of its Ace Attorney character to curb cannabis consumption in the nation’s youth, in conjunction with the Osaka Prefectural Police (OPP). Capcom had previously supported the OPP’s crime prevention efforts. “Capcom hopes to support crime prevention activities in Osaka and all of Japan through this program, which will see the production of 6,000 original posters, as well as 4,000 original flyers that will be included with individually wrapped face masks,” the company said in a press release.

The Cannabis Control Law, which was first implemented in Japan in 1948, has been long banned by Japan. Historically, cannabis had its place in Japanese culture and religion, but from the 1950s onward, Japanese law on cannabis mirrored that of the United State’s approach to prohibition. Although Japan’s hemp industry continued to be allowed to exist, few hemp farms are still in existence due to the high cost of cultivation licenses and decreased demand.

Although the Japanese government is shifting its perspective, it remains clear that Japan must make more strides before legalizing cannabis in Japan. Paul McCartney (ex-member of Beatles) visited Japan in 1980 and brought home less than 8 ounces. He was banned from coming back for 11 years. In February 2022, a U.S. Marine received two years of hard labor for mail-ordering “a half-gallon of weed-infused liquid and the quarter-pound of cannabis” from an unnamed individual in Nevada. On May 17, a school nurse was imprisoned for allegedly possessing “an unspecified amount of dried cannabis in two jars and a plastic bag.”

Even when Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, the Japanese government made a statement reminding Japanese nationals living broad that cannabis is illegal to consume even if they live in a country where it’s legal.

According to Kyodo News, the National Police Agency release data that there were 5,482 people who were caught in violation of Japan’s cannabis law (4,537 for possession, 273 for illegal sales, and 230 for illegal cultivation).