Criminalize marijuana use in Japan to stop its abuse by young people

The number of young people who use marijuana out of curiosity is increasing. The current legislation must be changed to ban the use of marijuana to stop its abuse.

An expert study panel of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has compiled a draft report calling for the use of marijuana to be made a criminal act under the Cannabis Control Law and other relevant laws to impose criminal punishment. The ministry reportedly plans to submit a revision bill to the Diet.

The current Cannabis Control Law prohibits the possession and transfer of marijuana, but there are no provisions that directly penalize its use. There are farmers who legally grow hemp for use in festivals and religious rituals, and the use of marijuana has been exempted from punishment because of the possibility that they inadvertently inhale substances found in marijuana.

Of the people caught in possession of marijuana, 75% knew that they would not be punished for using it. This may have contributed to the misunderstanding that marijuana use is permissible and may have fomented abuse.

The number of people arrested or questioned for possession or transfer of marijuana has increased for seven years in a row since 2014, reaching a record high of 5,273 last year. People under 20 accounted for 17% of all persons arrested or questioned over marijuana, while 65% of the total were under 30.

Marijuana was detected in the body of a 22-year-old man who fell to his death from the fourth floor of a building in Tokyo in May. The man was reportedly inhaling marijuana with six people in their teens to 20s, including acquaintances. The public should be made well aware that using marijuana out of curiosity can lead to irreversible consequences.

Social media is a catalyst for the spread of marijuana use. There are many cases where marijuana is referred to as “yasai” (vegetables) and easily bought and sold. In Kanagawa Prefecture, a murder occurred due to trouble between young people over a marijuana deal.

Some U.S. states and Canada have legalized the use of marijuana. Information is circulating on the internet that “marijuana is not harmful.” This is a big mistake.

Abuse of marijuana can cause memory impairment and panic attacks, and there is a risk of addiction. Above all, it must not be forgotten that marijuana can be a gateway drug to the use of stronger illicit drugs such as stimulants and cocaine.

The police and other relevant organizations should take steps to prevent marijuana abuse by monitoring social media posts that suggest marijuana deals and by stepping up educational activities to raise awareness of the dangers of the drug.

Once people start using drugs, it is not easy for them to recover. The central and local governments should collaborate with private organizations that help drug addicts give up their habit and promote measures to support their rehabilitation.

The study panel also proposed the use of substances contained in marijuana as medicine. In some countries, it is used to treat refractory epilepsy. Ways of using marijuana in Japan must be explored by carefully determining the effects.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 5, 2021.