Japan: Bloggers debate prohibition of cannabis

Starting with the case of two sumo wrestlers who tested positive for marijuana at the beginning of September and continuing with the announcement last week by Waseda University that three students were arrested over suspicions of growing cannabis, scandals related to the use of cannabis have topped the headlines in the media over the last few weeks. While the issue may seem to be very current, however, many bloggers, examining from historical and sociological perspectives the question of cannabis use, the circumstances under which it was banned, and its dangerousness to society, point out that it is really not.

One of the first bloggers was Nobuo Ikeda, who wrote a provocative entry titled: “If you're going to arrest [people] over marijuana, then also prohibit tobacco” (大麻で逮捕するならタバコを禁止せよ), commented on and quoted by several other bloggers:


We've been hearing a lot of news recently about the “marijuana scandal”, but a country where you can be arrested for possessing 10 seeds of hemp is not an advanced nation. In the U.S., a referendum held at the same time as the presidential elections resulted in many states either legalizing cannabis or [enforcing] only negligible penal regulations.


Of course, I am not saying that there are no problems related to cannabis. However, its toxicity and the addiction that it causes are less than [those caused by] alcohol and tobacco. If Japan is going to make this much noise over cannabis, then the country should also create a law to ban tobacco and alcohol, and logically-speaking it would be strange not to arrest smokers as well.



Estimates put the cost of tobacco in social terms at around 560 million yen, a figure that is not even comparable to [the much lower social cost] of cannabis. Since risks caused [by the use] of tobacco are considered “up to the individual's responsibility”, then under the same principle cannabis should be legalized. As has been pointed out by Friedman [en] and others since, in cases of cocaine [as well as marijuana], the damage [to society] from crime involved in drug dealing (resulting from the outlawing of drugs) is greater than the harm caused as a result of health problems. Marijuana is not even a drug, and arresting someone for possession of it is just nonsense.

“Absolutely not”, a warning notice about the use of marijuana at a university campus in Tokyo.

id: inumash provides his interpretation of the reasons why cannabis is prohibited in Japan, introducing some of the historical facts that brought about its ban. At the end of his entry, he responds to Ikeda's provocative post:


The reason why cannabis is prohibited in Japan.


In one sentence, it is because “we were told [to do so] by the U.S.”.
As you will see if you do a bit of research, cannabis was regulated by law in Japan immediately after the “Potsdam ordinance” following defeat in the Second World War. With that document, cannabis was defined as a drug and hemp cultivation and possession were completely prohibited.


In Japan, however, hemp had been used in everyday life as a fiber and as a medicine, and it was very normal to cultivate it. So when negotiations began with the U.S., with the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of the time in a leading role, a “Cannabis Control Law” was enacted which separated hemp from other narcotic regulations, and a licensing system for its cultivation was adopted as well.


So why did the U.S. demand [that Japan] prohibit cannabis?
The reason is simple: to sum up, it is because they wanted to develop businesses in synthetic fibers and chemical medicine” [in America].



Going back to Prof. Ikeda's somewhat ironic [initial] statement, as I wrote earlier, cannabis was prohibited in Japan because the U.S. demanded that it do so. So doesn't it seem stupid now to remove the ban just because “the U.S. is doing it”?


Whether with respect to this problem or with respect to financial problems, it is absolutely not true that “the way the U.S. is doing things is the correct [way to do them]”, and anyway isn't it about time that we become independent from the U.S. and started doing things in our own way?

id:NOV1975 explains the reasons why he doesn't believe cannabis should be legalized in Japan, not because of the harmful effects of marijuana itself but because of modern Japanese society:


Recently, despite all the noise about the marijuana issue, there is a vast number of voices outside the chorus who say: “It's not even so harmful. Tobacco and alcohol are much more dangerous!”
I consider research stating that cannabis is not so noxious to be correct, and I would like to see whether, if the ban was lifted, [cannabis] would actually become the gateway to other heavier drugs [see the so-called “Gateway Theory”].


However, I do not believe that it is the right thing for cannabis to be used in today's Japanese society. I don't want to think of this [in the sense] of: “as long as it is not dangerous [it is okay]”.
From this standpoint, there is a difference in circumstances between those who feel obliged to not go overboard, and those who, in a very Japanese way, think that “they won't know as long as it doesn't get out”. In a situation where 20-year-old students die from chugging down their drinks without stopping, and where there are izakaya [i.e. typical Japanese pub] everywhere offering drinks to customers who arrive by car, the reasoning that the ban should be lifted on marijuana because “it's the individual's responsibility” is just wrong, however you think about it.

Finally, blogger Tap at Inaka no Ie (田園の家) raises questions about media's unfair coverage of cannabis-related issues in their November 17 post:


Both tobacco and cannabis are harmful.
But to be honest, nobody has ever proved, with a proper methodology, what the dangers of cannabis are for citizens. It's been nothing but scholars towing the government line, saying that “[cannabis] is poisonous, it causes paranoia and hallucinations”.
And the mass media transmit nothing but this kind of message, without the slightest ounce of fair reporting.
I call this “propaganda”.


On the 18th, the same blogger wrote an entry on the matter expressing his opinion about the often discussed comparison between cannabis and tobacco:


Cannabis is often compared to tobacco because of its form.
But if we consider its effects, it is more appropriate to compare it with alcohol.


In small quantities, alcohol can also be good for health.
In the modern era when sugar is in abundance, the impression [of alcohol] is that it is just a luxury grocery item.
If one drinks too much alcohol it can cause damages to your health and, in the worst case scenario, can cause “acute alcohol poisoning” and even death.
On top of this, the traffic incidents caused by drunk driving are not decreasing, on the contrary the situation is becoming more and more complicated.


Isn't this because, by saying things like “alcohol is an adult's drink”, they have left [these issues] to take care of themselves?
Before [worrying about] cannabis, what if they tried to do something about alcohol…?


  • Wow, great article. In Canada we definitely suffer from an inability to modernize our laws due to pressure from the USA. In our case the trafficking potential is huge, so the US is particularly persistent in stopping us.

    It’s interesting to hear how Japan is dealing with Canabis especially because (as far as I can tell from what I’ve heard and while I was there) its use is pretty much non-existent in Japan right now. In Canada LOTS of people smoke every day and tons of people smoke sometimes, so we know basically how we’ll react. If Japan suddenly had legal pot it could cause a rush of new users and could potentially have social effects seperate from the health/safety/etc effects. Could it hasten a 60’s US style social revolution among the youth? I wonder if those in charge in Japan consider that a real threat, and if they would vocalize it as such if they do.

  • Scilla Alecci

    David Marx at Neojaponisme [en] posted an interesting entry about Mr. Aso (now Japan PM) and his links to marijuana…

  • jimmy stevens

    I was in Japan in 1973 and had to go to a US airbase to score could not find any anywhere else

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