Cannabis: the healing of the nation

Outlawed cannabis plant could provide solutions to a host of problems facing the country today.

by Jon Mitchell

Special To The Japan Times

Every summer in Hokkaido and northern Honshu, platoons of police and public servants scour the countryside for cannabis.

For a nation well-known for its strict drug laws, the plants are remarkably easy to find. In an average year, patrols discover between 1 million and 2 million of them — some sown by illicit smokers but the majority are the feral progeny of cannabis legally cultivated prior to its prohibition under the 1948 Cannabis Control Act.

Regardless of the plants’ origins, they’re pulled out by their roots, loaded into vans and incinerated in bonfires upwind from inhabited areas.

For a long time, few people questioned these annual eradication campaigns. Now, however, a vocal minority is challenging their efficacy — and Japan’s overall approach to cannabis.

One of these critics is Hideo Nagayoshi, author of “Taima Nyumon” (“An Introduction to Cannabis”), which was published in 2009. In his book, Nagayoshi argues that the millions of cannabis plants destroyed each year ought to be better used as medicine, biomass energy and in the construction industries.

Nagayoshi also highlights the senselessness of current laws, which impede domestic research into medicinal cannabis and drive scientists overseas to conduct their studies.

Another cannabis advocate is Yukio Funai, author of “Akuho! Taima Torishimariho no Shinjitsu” (“Bad Law! The Truth Behind the Cannabis Control Act”), which was published in 2012.

In a detailed breakdown of the potential economic benefits of legalizing cannabis in Japan, Funai calculates the country could reap as much as ¥30 trillion from the plant. Cannabis, he writes, is a golden egg.

Whether legalization would live up to these authors’ economic promises is uncertain. What, however, could be guaranteed are the human benefits.

Each year, Japanese police arrest approximately 2,000 people for possession of cannabis; making no distinction between recreational or medicinal users, the courts typically imprison them for up to five years.

Such treatment seems to ignore Japan’s long, but forgotten, history of cannabis cultivation.

In 2008, for example, a sumo wrestler was arrested for possession of the same plant from which his sport’s top yokozuna belts are woven.

Japan’s anti-cannabis fanaticism is a recent import. First imposed by U.S. occupying forces following World War II, it is now framed by a drugs policy modeled on the “Just Say No” campaign created by first lady Nancy Reagan during her husband’s presidency in the 1980s. (In Japan, the catch phrase is “Dame. Zettai.”)

Today, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department website contains sweeping claims about cannabis — for example, smoking “provokes hallucinations and delusions, violent behavior” — that are inconsistent with recent research.

All of this comes at a time when the United States itself is moving away from a zero tolerance approach toward harm reduction. Today, 20 states in the U.S. allow the sale of medical marijuana; Colorado and Washington have legalized it entirely.

One U.S. economist estimates the potential size of the American cannabis market to reach more than $10 billion by 2018.

However, the public debate on cannabis policy that has been raging abroad since the 1960s has yet to reach the shores of Japan. Until such discussion takes place, the benefits that cannabis could bring to the domestic economy are generally unknown.

Bumper — but currently illegal — crops already flourish across northern Japan, grown without agricultural chemicals or, in most cases, human intervention.

Put to proper use, these plants could provide solutions to a host of problems facing the country today, including the paper industries’ over-reliance on trees, the care quality of thousands of cancer patients and agricultural decline — particularly in post-3/11 Tohoku.

Until Japan re-appraises its cannabis heritage and embarks upon an open discussion of its war on weed, all of this potential will continue to go up in smoke.

  • http://www.peter-reynolds.co.uk Peter Reynolds

    Excellent work. Japan is as backwards as the UK when it comes to cannabis. Those in charge of your drugs policy, just like ours, look very stupid already. In five years time they will have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

  • Angusomy

    Legalize worldwide. This prohibition is baseless

  • Mike T

    Apropos Title!

    Marijuana is a Gift to Humanity from the Creator!

    Humans have a receptor system inside their body that accepts the Sacred Plant’s THC and CBD molecules meaning we have a symbiotic relationship with Sacred Plant of innumerous uses.

    Joy and Peace are coming to the world, prepare yourselves.
    Amen!

  • itoshima2012

    I strongly agree with you. To say “legalize it” seems very unwise. Its use for medical treatment is very good and if results show that its side effects don’t outweigh the problems caused by the disease in the first place its use should be broadened. As you say, very good research points in the direction that even occasional use of this drug is very damaging to the brain. Children/young adults have already to fight the omnipresence of alcohol so adding one more drug to the “mix” could push many over the edge. Yes, cannabis might not be as bad as alcohol, but even that is questionable. I for myself certainly don’t want to see my children be stoners!

    • Linda Yelvington

      NO ONE recommends it for healthy kids. This “what about the children” argument is also antiquated. By this logic you should outlaw alcohol, sex, working in factories, and sharp objects for adults because they are bad for kids.

  • itoshima2012

    Please rethink the “non science based” part, there’s plenty of research out there that points in the direction that cannabis is indeed very damaging, especially in young adults. Japan should toughen up its ant drug laws and go the way of Singapore were any person importing, exporting, or found in possession of more than the quantities of drugs outlined in the Act receives a mandatory death sentence. Drugs have its very important place in the cure of diseases and not in society for recreational purposes.

    • HK_EXPAT_IN_NEW_ZEALAND

      Bro thats way too extreme, no one should be killed or executed for trafficking Cannabis or helping to make Cannabis Oil for a person who is severely sick

  • Rod Joyce

    “incinerated in bonfires upwind from inhabited areas”. Upwind? Really? So the local residents get high. Curious.

    • shonangreg

      Yeah, if I don’t know what a word means, I try not to use it. Maybe I need to stand downwind from a bonfire of burning cannabis to loosen my inhibition ;-)

  • VeryOldB

    If you want to experience marijuana-induced paranoia, have a smoke in Tokyo and then get on a train.

  • Gishin

    You are a special kind of idiot are you??? I have multiple sclerosis and was taking so many useless pills that did not really help and made me worse.I was at the poijt of getting euthanised and I gave a chance to Cannabis from there I gradually stopped all chemical medications went from 250p ounds to a 170 and do hard core gym 5 days a week losing 1000 calories each time so stop using old school propaganda you belong in a museum.

  • Linda Yelvington

    More people are in treatment for cannabis because it was COURT ORDERED, unnecessary. 2000-2002 research is antiquated. In states that have medical cannabis crime is down, suicides are down, teenage use is down, health costs are down, try treading the real science on real studies done this decade. This whole post is prohibitionist lies. Cannabis prevents Alzheimer’s and dementia, kills cancer cells, regenerates brain cells. The link between mental health and cannabis is not a causal link, but exists because people with depression, etc, tend to self medicate, not the other way around. Cannabis does not work on the brain stem like Pharma crap so it cannot kill you like pills can. This asinine post shows how much truth and education is still needed.

  • Hanten

    Cannabis clearly has medical, cultural and industrial uses that are currently being ignored here in Japan.
    Prescribing medical marijuana would help many different types of patients while bypassing many the of the problems of substance abuse as well as allowing some pharmaceutical companies to make a profit and hence the government to earn tax on its sale.
    There are countless traditional Japanese products – as well as countless more from overseas – that use hemp such as fabric, rope, moisturisers and paper. Hemp environmentally sustainable, cheap and right now growing wild. Those plants are being destroyed by the police when they could be exploited for the good of many people and the environment. Instead of wasting it, it could turned over to local manufacturers. Imagine if the sumo wrestlers’ belts could be made locally again and legally.
    What is stopping that from happening? I reckon it’s people holding onto old moral judgements about what is right and wrong. Some people believe if something is illegal then it must be morally wrong. Women were not legally allowed to vote all around the world and people thought it must be immoral to try to change those laws. Thankfully they were changed anyway. It was because a lot of citizens stood up and told the government that the laws were wrong. The same thing can happen around marijuana.

  • HK_EXPAT_IN_NEW_ZEALAND

    Are you using pseudo research, care to tell us who is pushing your research, of most Cancer sufferers I have seen using Cannabis or the oil form of it, they can laugh and eat, please tell use where the people heavily damaged by Cannabis are, I am sure you have watched too much Reefer Madness