Cannabis has been illegal in Japan since 1948.
Under the current legislations defined by the Cannabis Control Law, its use and possession can be punished with five years of imprisonment on top of heavy financial penalties. In addition, anyone found involved in the cultivation, sale or transport of the drug can land in jail for about 7 to 10 years and made liable to pay a hefty fine to authorities.
These stringent policies have led to a lot of stigmatization of cannabis in Japan. According to some legalization advocates in the country, this stigma is so strong that it can be analogous to pillory surrounding criminals.
This criminalization of the plant has led to a complete shift in social attitudes towards it. Therefore, in order to bring about policy reforms in the industry, many advocates consider raising public awareness about the drug as the most vital course of action.
History of cannabis use in Japan
A historical review of cannabis use in Japan reveals that it was cultivated in the region since the pre-Neolithic period. This means that it was associated with the culture of the region since thousands of years.
If that period seems too ancient to consider, data from 1954 can be far more convincing. According to statistics reported in Medical Cannabis Network Quarterly, there were about 37,313 hemp farmers in Japan in 1954, compared to barely 37 in 2016.
Therefore, it can be established that cannabis was a popular agricultural product in the country back in the day.
Before its US influenced legal ban in 1948, the plant was widely used in the country. It was also considered sacred. The followers of the Shinto religious tradition believed that cannabis had the power of purification. They also respected it as a symbol of the sun, the inspiration for the Japanese flag.
In addition to this, cannabis was widely used in producing fiber and various other products. According to Junichiro Takayasu, director of Japan’s only cannabis museum, “The cannabis-fiber weaving technique used by Japanese craftsmen is very conscientious handwork, and I think it is important to carry on the tradition. The clothes from genuine cannabis fiber are cool in summer and warm in the winter, which is perfect for the Japanese climate.”
Struggling for cannabis acceptance and legalization
Despite of the strict laws surrounding the cannabis industry, groups of legalization advocates are emerging in the country. Green Zone Japan and Japanese Clinical Association of Cannabinoids are among the most prominent names that are striving to secure a legal status for cannabis in the country.
Aim of Green Zone Japan
Green Zone Japan is a medical cannabis advocacy group that came into being in 2017. The main aim of the founders Naoko Miki and Yuji Masakata is to bring up to date medical cannabis information to Japanese medical professionals and the general public in order to educate them on the subject.
In a recent move towards its legalizing efforts, Green Zone is adding subtitles to a documentary called CBD Nation. The documentary will be virtually screened for members all year long for maximum viewership.
Aim of Japanese Clinical Association of Cannabinoids
Japanese Clinical Association of Cannabinoids is the official partner of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines. It was established in 2015 to aid healthcare workers in conducting cannabinoid researches in Japan.
They are working to analyze and evaluate CBD clinical researches and the effects of foods infused with it.
Businesses using cannabis derivative, CBD
The lack of awareness about therapeutic benefits of CBD and the stringent laws have negatively affected businesses in the country.
It was among the most important agricultural crops when a complete ban was placed on it. The resulting outrage and disapproval by the most hard hit farmers forced the government to revise the laws. What we see today is the “revised” version due to the retaliation.
Today, cultivation of hemp is still possible, but under the strict control of the government. Growers have to obtain a cultivation license and permission before they can begin plantation. The bureaucratic process for obtaining and maintaining a license is so long and tiresome that agricultures are discouraged.
Despite of this, Japan is advancing small steps towards cannabis normalization. Entrepreneurs like Kota Shimomura, owner of CBD Coffee in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, are giving new business ideas and clientele to the cannabis industry. Due to the increasing demand, he believes that the CBD market will surpass tobacco in the nest five years. He is also planning to open a second location in Shinjuku by the end of this year.
Then there is another line of beauty products launched by Priyanka Yoshikawa, a model and former Miss World Japan. “I wanted to have my own skin care line for a long time. And I saw that no one was really doing a good, CBD-based skin care line.” She also believes that CBD will provide the much needed relief to the workaholic population of Japan. It will allow them some “relaxation and one-on-one time”.
This industry is expected to bring in a lot of job opportunities for it agricultural revival. According to Masakata, a neurologist by profession and volunteer at Green Zone, this revival will bring young people to come back to the countryside.