In a landmark decision, Japan’s parliament has passed a bill legalizing cannabis-based medicines while simultaneously tightening the country’s already strict ban on recreational marijuana use.
The revised cannabis and narcotics control laws, passed in the upper house on Wednesday, pave the way for the legalization of medical products derived from cannabis. These medications, often containing cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of the plant, have shown promise in treating a range of conditions, including severe epilepsy.
This move represents a victory for patient groups that have long advocated for access to these potential therapies. However, the changes also reflect a growing concern among Japanese authorities over the rising number of cannabis-related arrests, particularly among young people.
Prior to the revisions, inhaling marijuana was technically legal in Japan, while possessing it was punishable by up to five years in prison. This loophole, introduced primarily to protect hemp farmers from being prosecuted for inadvertently inhaling psychoactive smoke, was partially blamed for the recent surge in cannabis-related offenses.
Under the newly enacted laws, both consuming and possessing marijuana are now considered illegal offenses, with penalties of up to seven years in prison. This stricter stance aims to curb the growing popularity of marijuana among youth, particularly teens and young adults.
Health ministry statistics indicate that the number of cannabis-related arrests in Japan reached a record 5,783 in 2021, with a significant increase among younger demographics. A 2020 police survey of 748 individuals arrested for marijuana possession revealed that nearly 30% cited the lack of penalties against consumption as a contributing factor to their behavior.
“Given the growing trend of young people abusing marijuana, we hope this revision will help curb this trend,” stated top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno following the bill’s passage in parliament.
Despite the stricter penalties for recreational use, Japan’s CBD market continues to flourish, expanding from a mere $3 million in 2015 to an estimated $59 million in 2019, according to Tokyo-based research firm Visiongraph. The new rule against consumption will leave CBD products unregulated, as it focuses solely on THC, the psychoactive compound that induces a “high.”
This landmark decision marks a significant shift in Japan’s approach to cannabis, acknowledging the potential benefits of medical marijuana while simultaneously addressing concerns about recreational use. The future of cannabis regulation in Japan remains to be seen, but this move demonstrates the country’s willingness to adapt its stance on this complex issue.