Japan currently has one of the worst cannabis policies on earth, with simple cannabis possession being treated as a major crime and carrying a hefty penalty. Under Japan’s current cannabis law, possession of cannabis carries a potential 5-year prison sentence.
Getting caught cultivating cannabis results in an even greater fine – up to 7 years in prison. At a time when many countries are moving towards adult-use cannabis legalization, Japan is still clinging hard to failed public policy. Cannabis prohibition has never worked, including in Japan where people still consume cannabis regardless of prohibition.
Instead of treating cannabis like alcohol (a substance that is far more dangerous), Japan continues to incarcerate consumers and patients who are caught with cannabis. To make matters worse, Japan is moving towards a policy that would punish people for simply having cannabis in their system.
Jail Time For Metabolized Cannabinoids
As if Japan’s cannabis laws weren’t terrible enough, the nation’s health minister recently put together a panel that will, among other things, consider making it a crime to have cannabis in a person’s system. According to various media reports out of Japan, the penalty for the offense would include jail time.
The potential policy change is apparently in reaction to rising youth cannabis consumption rates in Japan, as well as an increase in cannabis arrests in recent years. For perspective purposes, it’s worth noting that Japan has some of the lowest cannabis consumption rates on earth, including among younger people.
To be clear, such a policy would not be tailored towards battling intoxication because of how the human body metabolizes cannabis. When a person consumes cannabis, ‘active THC’ only exists in the body for a handful of hours, after which it becomes ‘metabolized THC.’ Once cannabinoids are metabolized, there’s no way to know if the person consumed cannabis earlier that day or several weeks prior.
Pushback From Local Activists
Fortunately, cannabis activists in Japan are not standing by while the ridiculous policy is being considered by the panel that Japan’s health minister created. Activists with the Japan Advocacy Network for Drug Policy recently sent a letter to Japan’s health minister urging them to reconsider pursuing the policy.
The activists are calling for a ‘support network’ to be set up to help people battling addiction rather than putting consumers and patients into Japan’s criminal justice system. The group feels that a cannabis consumption law would make it harder for youth and their families to address cannabis consumption in a constructive manner.
“Both the people concerned and their families will be unable to discuss drug issues at an early stage if the law is made stricter,” Harue Kamioka, representative of the advocacy network, said at a news conference at the ministry according to Japan Times.
Cannabis prohibition does not work. Subjecting people to prison sentences and other penalties because they consume cannabis is wrong. That is true in Japan and anywhere else that cannabis prohibition exists. Hopefully, Japan scraps what is being proposed and instead gets on the right side of history.
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Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Barcelona (March 10th), Berlin (July 19-20th), and Zurich (September 8-9).