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WASHINGTON (Kyodo) A U.S. government report on narcotics control Friday describes Japan as a place with widespread marijuana use and one of the largest markets for methamphetamines in Asia.

The 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, issued by the U.S. Department of State, said that “marijuana use is widespread” in Japan while “methamphetamine abuse remains the biggest challenge” to its antinarcotics efforts.

Although the report did not elaborate, its reference to marijuana use in Japan apparently reflects the recent statistical jump in cannabis-related crimes, including highly publicized cases involving sumo wrestlers and college students in the past year.

Earlier this month, the National Police Agency reported that police departments across the country handled 3,832 cannabis-related cases involving 2,778 offenders last year, both all-time highs since the NPA began tracking records in 1956.

One of the cases that drew national attention was when Russian sumo wrestler Wakanoho was arrested for marijuana possession in August.

Two other Russians tested positive for marijuana shortly afterward in tests conducted by sumo’s governing body, before a Japanese grappler was arrested in January in the latest marijuana-related incident to hit the ancient sport. All four have been dismissed from sumo.

Arrests of college students were reported throughout the year for possessing, smoking, growing or smuggling cannabis or marijuana.

As for methamphetamine abuse in Japan, the State Department report said the reduction in the drug’s supply that began in mid-2006 “appears to have reversed” and that Chinese traffickers using supplies from China and Canada are believed to “have stepped in to fill the gap” presumably created by the 2006 closure of mega-labs in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The report said Afghanistan “remained the world’s largest grower of opium poppy” despite a 19 percent decline in 2008 in opium poppy cultivation in the country. It noted that the antigovernment insurgency, most commonly associated with the Taliban, exploits the narcotics trade for financial gain.

On the situation in North Korea, the report said drug trafficking with a connection to the communist country “appears to be down sharply.”

“There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years (in North Korea), but there still is insufficient evidence to say for certain that state-sponsored trafficking has stopped at this time,” it said.

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