National

As Canada legalizes recreational marijuana, Japanese citizens warned the law from home may apply

by Eric Johnston and Sarah Suk

Staff Writers

Canada’s legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, which went into effect last week, has prompted the Japanese government to issue warnings that Japan’s law on cannabis use may apply to its nationals even when they are abroad.

In an Oct. 4 message posted on its website, the Japanese Consulate in Vancouver said that while Canada was set to legalize the possession and use of marijuana on Oct. 17, acts such as possessing or purchasing the drug are illegal in Japan and are subject to legal penalties. It said the Cannabis Control Law may be applicable for actions taken overseas.

The consulate asked that Japanese nationals living or traveling abroad respect Japanese law and stay away from marijuana, including food and drink products that contain the substance. An Oct. 11 Japanese language notice issued by the consulate general in Toronto made a similar request.

Japan’s law makes growing, importing or exporting marijuana punishable by up to seven years in prison. The punishment can reach up to 10 years — and possibly a maximum ¥3 million fine — for those proven to have engaged in those acts with the intent to profit. Possession, distribution or receipt of marijuana can mean up to five years prison, while those with a profit motive can get a maximum seven-year jail term and up to a ¥2 million fine.

An official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry suggested that all individuals, not just Japanese nationals, are technically subject to this law, wherever they are. But there are limits to what authorities can do to pursue someone who violates the law when abroad, especially in a country where the acts are legal. “It boils down to whether it can be proven that someone had committed acts in question while abroad after that person returns to Japan,” the official said. “It’s probably difficult to go after a case unless it involves a situation in which the person has been caught abroad and deported to Japan.”

Any individual bringing marijuana from overseas to Japan would certainly be subject to the domestic law, and Canada also warns against such action.

In an email reply to The Japan Times, John Babcock, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, a government organization, said that the legalization of cannabis in Canada will not change the country’s border rules.

“Taking cannabis or any product containing cannabis across Canada’s international borders — either exiting or entering — will remain illegal and it can result in serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad. Transporting cannabis used for medical purposes will also remain illegal,” Babcock said.

“Each country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements,” he added.

Over the years in Japan, there have been a number of high profile arrests of foreign nationals and Japanese for marijuana possession. In 1980, former Beatle Paul McCartney was caught with eight ounces of marijuana when he arrived at Narita airport and deported nine days later.

In 2017, former actress Saya Takagi was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for three years, for possessing about 55 grams of marijuana, while Koki Tanaka, a former member of the boy band Kat-tun, was arrested for allegedly possessing a small amount of marijuana. Tanaka denied the allegation and prosecutors decided not to indict him.

Last year police took action against a record 3,008 people in marijuana-related cases. The National Policy Agency noted that there was a rise in marijuana cases among those between 14 and 19 years old, a fivefold increase since 2013. A separate police survey last year showed that only about 30 percent of those who were investigated for alleged involvement with marijuana thought its use was dangerous.