Japan has recently made a significant legislative change regarding cannabis, marking a pivotal shift in its drug policy. On December 6, 2023, the Japanese Parliament passed a bill legalizing the medical use of cannabis-derived medicines. This development represents a major advancement for patient groups who have been advocating for access to cannabidiol (CBD) products. These cannabis-based medicines have shown efficacy in treating conditions like severe epilepsy and are already in use in various countries, including the United States and Europe.
However, alongside this progressive move in healthcare, Japan has concurrently tightened its stance on recreational marijuana use. Previously, there was a legal loophole where the consumption of marijuana was technically not penalized, although possession was illegal.
This loophole was initially intended to protect farmers who might inadvertently inhale psychoactive substances while cultivating hemp for industrial purposes. But with growing concerns over the rise in cannabis use, particularly among the youth, the Japanese government decided to close this loophole. Now, under the revised laws, both the use and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes are criminalized, with violators facing up to seven years in prison.
This tightening of cannabis laws comes in the wake of increasing cannabis-related arrests in Japan, particularly among teenagers and young adults. The number of arrests related to cannabis hit a record high of 5,783 in 2021, signaling a rising trend in cannabis misuse among the younger population.
The Cannabis Control Law, which was introduced in Japan in 1948, reflects the country's historically strict approach to drug control, a stance that is common across Asia. The new law also introduces two types of licenses for cannabis cultivation: one for medicinal purposes and another for industrial uses such as hemp production. The legal changes regarding cultivation are set to come into effect two years after the law's announcement.
Japan's move to legalize medical cannabis, while simultaneously toughening its ban on recreational use, indicates a nuanced approach to cannabis regulation, balancing the recognition of its medical benefits with a firm stance against recreational misuse.