Japan has the reputation of having some of the strictest laws and the most severe punishments pertaining to cannabis in the developed world.
Since 1948, cannabis has been prohibited in Japan. The possession and use of even less than one gram of cannabis are punishable by a maximum of five years in prison plus a fine. Meanwhile, the sale, cultivation, and transport of the substance are punishable by seven to 10 years in prison plus a fine.
Japan’s cannabis history and culture
Japan may have harsh cannabis laws, but the plant has a special place in the heart of Japanese culture. Cannabis has been grown in the country since the pre-Neolithic period, both as a food source and for its fibers. Hemp fibers were used to make cloth, paper, rope, and even fishing line. The cannabis plant was also used as a daily training tool for ninjas. Young warriors in training should jump over the cannabis plant each day, and because the plant grows rapidly, they needed to jump higher than they did the previous day.
Even in the native Japanese religion of Shintoism, cannabis is used. Ceremonial ropes and paper used at shrines are sourced from the cannabis fibers.
While there is, however, no conclusive archaeological evidence that the plant was used for medicinal purposes, there is a great possibility that it has, considering that cannabis’ medical properties have been widely recognized as one integral part of the practice of traditional medicine in Asia. This may also very well be the reason why Japan’s landrace strains contain average THC levels of four per cent, which is more than enough for it to be psychoactive. This also indicates that the country has a long history of cannabis cultivation for potency.
Japan’s cannabis legislation
So why is cannabis illegal, or why is Japan so strict about it, when cannabis has been a part of its rich culture? (And we know how Japan values and preserves everything about its culture and heritage.)
It was the Americans who forced the prohibition of cannabis through the Cannabis Control Law during the American occupation in Japan.
Before this, cannabis was grown anywhere and used (not really smoked) by just about everybody for purposes of commerce and industry. But the American government wanted to deny the Japanese people access to a renewable but cheap resource that is proven to have many uses. This move enabled the U.S. military to hinder Japan’s ability to make war.
The Japanese resisted the Cannabis Control Law, and this led the U.S. government to grant licenses to some growers and traditional hemp farmers. Other small scale farms, meanwhile, were shut down. Under the law, a licensing system for dealers was adopted and punishments were set in place for those who use or sell cannabis without license. From this point on, most of the hemp used in Shinto rites and in the manufacturing business has been imported from China.
In the 1970s, cannabis gained popularity as a drug just as people’s incomes rose. However, it did not become as popular as amphetamines and other drugs. In fact, Japan is said to be the only nation in the world where there are more people who use meth than those who use weed.
Most of the weed consumed by Japanese users is imported from other countries. In 2009, authorities found some illicit cultivation sites, but most of these sites were small. In 2016, a police raid in Wakayama Prefecture resulted in the seizure of over 10,000 plants. This was deemed by the police as an “extraordinary amount” compared to the weed it has seized in past raids.
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Stay tuned for Part 2 is this article.