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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:

このところ「大麻汚染」についてのニュースが多いが、大麻の種を10粒もっていたぐらいで逮捕する国は、先進国にはない。アメリカの大統領選挙と一緒に行なわれた住民投票では、多くの州で大麻は合法化されるかきわめて軽微な罰則になった。

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.

もちろん大麻に問題がないわけではない。しかし、その毒性も依存性も、アルコールやタバコより低い。大麻にこれほど大騒ぎするなら、日本も禁酒法をつくり、喫煙者を逮捕しなければ論理的におかしい。

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.

[…]

タバコの社会的コストは5兆6000億円という推定もあり、大麻とは比較にならない。タバコのリスクを「自己責任」で認めるなら、同じ理由で大麻も合法化すべきだ。フリードマン以来、指摘されてきたように、コカインのような麻薬でも、その健康被害より(非合法化による)麻薬取引にからむ犯罪被害のほうが多い。麻薬ですらない大麻で逮捕するのはナンセンスだ。

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:

日本で大麻が禁止されている本当の理由

The reason why cannabis is prohibited in Japan.

一言で言うと『アメリカに言われたから』です。
ちょっと調べればわかると思いますが、日本で大麻が法的に規制されることとなった大元は敗戦直後の「ポツダム省令」です。これにより、大麻が麻薬と定義され栽培や所持が全面的に禁止されます。

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.

しかし、日本では大麻は繊維素材や薬として日常生活に取り入れられており、ごく普通に栽培されていました。そこで、当時の農林省が中心となってアメリカと交渉し、大麻をその他の麻薬規制から独立させた「大麻取締規則法」を制定、栽培に関する免許制などが採用されたわけです。

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.

じゃあ、何でアメリカは大麻を禁止させたかったのでしょう?
これも理由は単純で、一言で言うと『合成繊維&化学薬品産業を成長させたかったから』です。

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].

[…]

最後に池田先生へのちょっとした皮肉。
上に書いたように、日本で大麻が禁止されたのはアメリカの要請によるものです。で、それを解禁するにあたって「アメリカがこうしているから」というのはまたずいぶんと間抜けなお話だとは思わないのでしょうか。

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”?

この問題にしろあるいは金融の問題にしろ“アメリカのやり方が正しい”なんてことは全然ないわけですし、そろそろアメリカ様から自立して“自分達のやり方”を考えてみてもいいんじゃないかなー、なんて事を思いました。

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:

最近大麻が世間を騒がせすぎなのに対して「大して害もないのに。タバコや酒のほうが危ないじゃん」という形で異を唱える人がそれなりにいるようです。
僕は、大麻の害は今のところそれほどないという研究が正しいのではと思っているし、他の麻薬への入り口にはならないことが認められて解禁されたらどんなものなのか試してみたいとは思います。

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”].

でも、今の日本で大麻を吸うことが正しいとは思いません、という立場です。「害がないならいーじゃん」とは考えたくないということね。
そういったベースの上で、度を越えないことを各人が実質義務付けられている状態と、「ばれなきゃわかんねーよ」的な文化な日本では自ずから事情が異なってきます。20歳前の大学生を一気飲みで殺したり、どう考えても車で来ている客に酒を提供する居酒屋が跳梁跋扈する状態で「自己責任だから」という理由で大麻を解禁するのはちょっとイヤ。

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:

タバコと大麻、どちらが有害
はっきり言って、正しい方法で国民に対して
大麻の有害性が証明された事はない。
御用学者が「中毒、妄想、幻覚」などと言うだけだ。
マスメディアはこちらの意見しか放送しない。
報道の公平性など微塵もない。
こういうのを「プロパガンダ」と言います。

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:

その形状からタバコと比較されがちな大麻。
その効能を考えるなら
酒と比べるのがより良いです。

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.

酒は少量なら健康の為になる場合もあるでしょう。
砂糖が豊富な現代においては、全くの嗜好品の感があるが・・・
酒は飲み過ぎると健康を害するし、
ひどい場合は「急性アルコール中毒」で死亡なんて事に。
飲酒運転による悲惨な事故も減るどころかますます複雑な状態に。

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.

「酒は大人のたしなみ」等と言って野放しにしてきたからでは?
大麻より先に酒を何とかしたら。。

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…?

5 comments

  • 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…
    http://neojaponisme.com/2008/09/20/aso-linked-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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