Police statistics show that the number of people taken into police custody on narcotics-related charges is on the decrease. Still, optimism about drug use in Japan is not warranted, as recent arrests or indictments have involved a former lawmaker and members of the Self-Defense Forces.

Mr. Kenji Kobayashi, a former Diet member of the Democratic Party of Japan, who ran in vain in the No. 7 constituency in Aichi Prefecture in the Sept. 11 general elections, was indicted together with two aides on a charge of possessing a stimulant drug. Ironically, in his Diet debate in March 2002, he had called on the government to strengthen measures to control smuggling of stimulant drugs and other narcotics.

Among the SDF members arrested or indicted were seven submariners stationed at the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture accused of having possessed or sold marijuana. Submariners represent an elite 5 percent of the 40,000-strong MSDF.

According to the National Police Agency, about 12,000 people were taken into police custody on suspicion of violating the Stimulant Drug Control Law in 2004, down 2,400 from the previous year and representing the fourth straight yearly decline. But officials note that Japan is still at its third peak of stimulant-drug use in the past 60 years — following the first peak just after World War II and the second one in the 1980s, when stimulant-drug trafficking by gangsters became rampant.

In the first half of this year, a total of 7,659 people were taken into police custody on suspicion of using or selling stimulants, opium, marijuana or other narcotic drugs. Of these, 6,451 were suspected of violating the Stimulant Drug Control Law. About half of them were gangsters. There were 1,736 people in their 20s plus 230 minors — including 38 senior high-school students and seven junior high-school students.

Police also took into custody 204 people in connection with the use or sale of pill-shaped synthetic narcotics such as MDMA; 78 percent of these people were in their 30s or younger.

Statistics of the Finance Ministry show that narcotics abuse is spreading without abatement in this country whose public safety environment has long been the target of praise. Serious thought should be given to preventing narcotics use from undermining the nation’s social fabric.

According to the ministry, the amount of smuggled narcotics seized by customs authorities has increased five times in the past 10 years. In 2004, about 1.36 tons of narcotics, excluding pill-type drugs like MDMA, were seized — up 23 percent from the previous year and topping the one-ton mark for the second year in a row. A total of 429,000 pills were also confiscated, for a rise of 11 percent.

Attention must be paid to the rapid rise in the number of people taken into police custody on suspicion of using or selling MDMA and marijuana. In 2004, a record 2,600 people were taken into police custody. More than 70 percent of them were in their 20s and 30s, and 90 percent were first offenders. MDMA and marijuana can be obtained rather easily on city streets, in entertainment clubs or even over the Internet. They are cheaper than ordinary stimulant drugs; moreover, the sense of guilt from smoking marijuana differs little from that of smoking a cigarette.

One legal problem is that some narcotic drugs including MBDB, also called Bliss, and 2C-T-7, also called Zoom, are not covered by the narcotics control law. While the law covers 143 types of drugs, it cannot address drugs whose chemical structure is even slightly different from those defined. Thus many drugs whose effect is the same as that of stimulants and other drugs are freely traded.

The NPA says there are 160 sales channels for such drugs on the Internet. These drugs are also available at more than 280 locations throughout the country, including “adult shops” selling pornographic items, according to the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry.

In April the Tokyo Metropolitan Government enforced a by-law to criminalize the manufacturing and sale of three types of drugs not covered by the law. The health ministry plans to include MBDB and 2C-T-7 under the antinarcotics law and to collect more information on drugs not covered by the law.

The government must employ every means available to stem the spread and use of narcotics. The most effective means is teaching children about the dreadful damage that narcotics use can cause. A positive step in that direction is the ministry’s plans to seek an appropriation of 107 million yen for fiscal 2006 to distribute booklets about such damage to senior and junior high-school students, and to send officials abroad to examine narcotics situations there firsthand.

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