Advocacy groups submitted a written request to health minister Norihisa Tamura on Thursday asking the government to reconsider its plans to criminalize the use of cannabis, asserting the need for "support over punishment."

The Japan Advocacy Network for Drug Policy claims a harsher Cannabis Control Law could deny both jobs and housing to those convicted of minor drug offenses, leading people into a "vicious cycle" of poverty and crime.

Possessing cannabis is illegal in Japan, but some farmers are licensed to cultivate it, as hemp has been used from ancient times for items such as shimenawa (sacred Japanese rope) at shrines.

But are no penalties for using cannabis because of the possibility that licensed growers may inhale cannabis particles during cultivation.

In February, the health ministry submitted test results to a panel of experts showing cannabis particles were not detected in people who grow hemp.

The submission of the document by the advocacy network, backed by the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch, among others, came as the health ministry panel has been discussing a possible revision of the law amid a rising number of marijuana offenses in the country.

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 offenders, according to the National Police Agency.

The document submitted to Tamura includes numerous requests, including the creation of a support system for those struggling with the adverse effects of drugs, both legal and illegal.

"Both the people concerned and their families will be unable to discuss drug issues at an early stage if the law is made stricter," Harue Kamioka, representative of the advocacy network, said at a news conference at the ministry.