14th June 2021
By Emily Ledger
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Japan is set to criminalise the use of recreational cannabis following the meeting of a health expert panel last week. The change includes a revision of the country’s cannabis control law.

The panel of 12 health experts was headed by Professor Tsutomo Suzuki from the Shonan University of Medical Sciences. According to The Mainichi, the panel reached their decision to support the criminalisation of cannabis use based on concerns about young people’s abuse of the drug.

Currently, Japan’s cannabis control law, which was enacted in 1948, prohibits the cultivation and possession of cannabis, however, there are no criminal punishments in place for the use of the drug.

Provisions to introduce punishment for cannabis use had reportedly been put off due to concerns that hemp farmers who cultivate the plant to make traditional “shimenawa” ropes for Shinto shrines, may inhale plant matter while working.

hemp crop

However, earlier this year, the health ministry presented test results demonstrating that no cannabinoids had been detected in farmers’ urine after working with the crop. This finding reportedly prompted the panel to conclude that “there are no reasonable grounds for not imposing penalties on [marijuana] use.”

Criminal punishments for cannabis offences in Japan currently include imprisonment with work for up to five years for possession of the drug and imprisonment with work for up to seven years for cultivation. The resulting report from the panel meeting states that there is a need to set up similar penalties for the use of cannabis.

However, the decision was not unanimous among the experts, with three of the 12 members objecting to establishing new criminal penalties. They argued that such a move would go “against the global trend of focusing on supporting recovery” and that “it cannot be said that cannabis use is causing social harm, and there are no factual grounds for implementing [criminal penalties].”

Consequently, the report also refers to the introduction of efforts to support recovery, including drug addiction treatment and social rehabilitation.

Nonetheless, any tightening of cannabis policy will likely be seen as a negative in a global climate that is often seeing the decriminalisation and level potential legalisation in countries like Portugal, Luxembourg, and the US.

While the decision to implement criminal penalties for cannabis use will be seen as a step back for many, the panel also recommended that cannabis-based medications – which are currently restricted in Japan – should be legalised.

The report from the panel suggests to the national government that the import, production, sale, and use of medical cannabis products should be permitted for a number of health indications – a motion that is increasingly supported by doctors and advocates in the country.

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