National / Crime & Legal

Japan sees record number of marijuana cases in 2017 as youth involvement rises

Kyodo

Police nationwide took action against a record 3,008 people in cases involving marijuana in 2017, up 472 from the previous year, National Police Agency data showed Thursday, possibly because more people are using marijuana amid toughened measures on kiken (dangerous) drugs.

The data showed a notable increase in marijuana cases involving people aged below 20, raising concern that use of the drug is becoming more widespread among juveniles.

The number of individuals that came to police attention per 100,000 doubled to 3.0 in 2017 from 2013, while the number of those aged between 14 and 19 saw more than a five-fold increase from 0.8 to 4.1. The number of people in their 20s increased from 4.8 to 9.4.

The figure for people in their 40s and 50s came in at well below the overall rate of 3.0, standing at 1.8 and 0.3, respectively.

In a separate survey conducted last year covering some 500 people investigated for involvement in marijuana related-cases, only around 30 percent of respondents said they thought marijuana use was dangerous, compared to some 70 percent for stimulant drugs.

While 42.9 percent of respondents in their 40s said they started using marijuana out of curiosity, a larger 66.3 percent of those aged below 20 cited the same motivation.

“It is possible that more people are shifting to marijuana on the back of the declining number of people using so-called ‘dangerous drugs,’ against which measures have been bolstered,” an agency official said.

The government defines dangerous drugs as those containing chemical agents that can cause hallucinations or have a stimulant effect.

Across all age groups combined, 63.7 percent said they began using marijuana after being influenced by peers while 22.6 percent decided to try it independently of others.

More than 80 percent of respondents aged under 20 said they had been offered the drug, compared with around 70 percent of people in their 20s and about 50 percent of those in their 30s.

Among the cases that came to police attention, 2,505 involved people in possession of marijuana, 168 involved dealing, 67 smuggling and 138 cultivation.

Police specifically noted cases that involved Japanese crime syndicates partnering with Vietnamese criminal groups to grow marijuana.

Police took action against 13,542 people in drug-related cases last year. The number investigated for stimulant drug cases fell slightly from a year earlier to 10,113. Cases related specifically to cocaine saw an approximate four-fold rise since 2013 to 177.

Authorities seized 1,118.1 kilograms of stimulant drugs last year, topping the 1,000 kg mark for the second consecutive year. Seizures of synthetic drugs including MDMA — often an ingredient in the drug commonly known as ecstasy — reached 3,181 pills, while 9.6 kg of cocaine was confiscated.