Japan’s Cannabis Control Act will likely be reformed in Spring next year. Although the contents of the revision are to be decided in the Diet, we know what is likely to be changed from the report published by the expert committee held by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare. I will introduce the contents of the report.
Hemp, the plant from which marijuana is made, is traditionally used for religious services, festivals, and clothes in Japan. For instance, you can see shimenawa, ropes made from hemp, in any shrine in Japan. According to the report, there were 37,313 cannabis farmers in 1954, which decreased to 35 in 2019. The report proposes streamlining granting licenses to cultivate cannabis to protect and encourage hemp farmers in Japan.
From part control to ingredient control
Marijuana contains many components, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), responsible for the ‘high’ people feel when they use marijuana, and CBD (cannabidiol), which does not have this same effect.
CBD can be used for easing the pain or symptoms of illness such as depression, or relaxation, whose oil products are already available in the market. However, the current law only allows the stalk and seed of the cannabis plant to be used for any product, regardless of THC or CBD, by defining the term ‘cannabis’ as follows:
Article 1 The term “Cannabis” as used in this Act means the cannabis plant (Cannabis Sativa L.) and its products; provided, however, that the grown stalk of the cannabis plant and its products (excluding resin.) and the seed of cannabis plant and its products are excluded.
Therefore, under the law, any product that contains CBD must be extracted by the stalk or seed of cannabis plants. The report proposes that the law control cannabis by its component, not its parts (e.g., stalk, seed). Hemp that contains THC below the standard is already manufactured as industrial hemp in other countries.
In this regard, the report also proposes to ease manufacturing and using drugs that contain substances derived from marijuana. For instance, Epidiolex, whose active ingredient is CBD, has already been approved to treat a severe form of epilepsy in the United States.
Use of marijuana
Meanwhile, the report sees marijuana as a gateway drug and remains the position to criminalize its use for recreational purposes. Technically speaking, the current law only explicitly prohibits the possession, cultivation, import, or export of marijuana but not the smoking or ingesting it, unlike other drugs.
The reason why this happened is as follows. In 1948, when the law was enacted, there was a concern that hemp farmers could breathe in its substance when cropping hemp. If the substance had been detected from their body, it could fall within the definition of the ‘use of marijuana.’
Now, it’s turned out that it is not the case. Therefore, the report proposes to criminalize the use of marijuana explicitly. However, in practice, nothing will change. Those who smoke or ingest marijuana are currently prosecuted due to their possession in any way. We cannot smoke marijuana without possessing it.
 Cannabis Control Act (Act No. 124 of 1948)
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