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Japan Stays Tough on Marijuana as Other Nations Loosen Up

In June, the panel’s final report tried to split the difference. On one hand, it recommended regulating cannabis’s chemical compounds, instead of its leaves and buds, as is currently the case. In theory, the change would ease imports of products containing only trace amounts of THC, the primary molecule responsible for marijuana’s intoxicating properties.

The report also recommended allowing trials of cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals, such as Epidiolex, an anti-seizure medication made from CBD. (Japan requires all drugs to undergo domestic trials.) It didn’t, however, mention medical marijuana.

Still, the report’s primary focus was battling marijuana’s spread, including making it a crime to use it. Under the current legal regime, it said, people “are likely receiving the message that ‘using marijuana is OK.’”

Recent marijuana crackdowns have raised concerns about government overreach.

In September 2020, the authorities in Tokyo detained two people for 20 days for posting on social media about marijuana and encouraging others to try it. When New York legalized marijuana in March, Japan’s consulate there warned Japanese to steer clear or face potential legal consequences at home.

Arrests for the drug have almost doubled over the past five years, passing 5,000 in 2020 for the first time, according to police data. This year is on track to be much higher.

Punishments in Japan are generally light. Still, arrestees often risk being fired or expelled from school, according to Michiko Kameishi, a defense lawyer and legalization advocate in Osaka.

Society can be unforgiving. “In Japan, people are much more likely to question someone who breaks a rule than question the rule itself,” she said.

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