• Kyodo, Jiji, Staff Report

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A record 5,034 people were involved in cannabis-related crimes in Japan in 2020, with teens and those in their 20s accounting for the majority of the offenders, police data showed Thursday.

The figure rose by 713 from the previous year, marking the seventh consecutive yearly increase and exceeding 5,000 for the first time.

The National Police Agency vowed to boost cyber-patrols and crack down on drug deals using social media. The agency is also planning to strengthen its messaging on marijuana.

Japan maintains strict laws on marijuana even as a number of countries have legalized its recreational use in recent years. The law subjects owners and growers of the plant to up to five and seven years of imprisonment, respectively, and the government has warned citizens about using pot in countries where it has been legalized.

“Please do not get your hands on marijuana even if you are in a country or region that legalizes it,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week.

Of the 5,034 people, 887 were between 14 and 19 years old, up 278 from the previous year, and 2,540 were in their 20s, up 590.

The number of those age 14 to 19 involved in cannabis cases probed by the police jumped over fourfold to 12.9 per 100,000 people in that age group from 2016, while the figure for those in their 20s grew 2.5 times to 20.1, according to the NPA data.

Overall, five individuals per 100,000 were involved in cannabis offenses last year, doubling from 2016.

The number of university students rose by 87 to 219 and that of high school students grew by 50 to 159, both hitting record highs. Eight junior high school students were among the offenders, with the youngest being a 14-year-old student.

Of the total number of offenders, 4,121 were involved in cannabis possession, while 274 were engaged in delivery. The number of people who were dealt with by police over cannabis cultivation jumped by 68 to 232.

The number of people involved in drug offenses in general in 2020 rose 715 from the previous year to 14,079.

Among all drug offenders in the country last year, 8,471 were involved in methamphetamine or amphetamines cases, down 113 from the previous year, followed by the over 5,034 implicated in cannabis, 201 in synthetic drugs, up 119, and 188 in cocaine, down 17.

Most offenders started to use cannabis when they were in their 20s or younger.

The largest group of offenders said they began consuming cannabis after being invited to do so, citing curiosity as a reason for accepting such an invitation.

The second-largest group noted that they started using cannabis in order to fit in.

The number of stimulant smuggling cases fell by 200 to 73, mainly because the number of cases in which offenders bring stimulants into Japan in bags carried on the plane dropped due to entry bans introduced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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