Individuals Charged in Marijuana-Related Cases Hit Record-High in 2023; 73.5% of Offenders in 20s or Younger

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The National Police Agency in Tokyo

A record-high 6,482 individuals across Japan were charged in marijuana-related cases in 2023, eclipsing the number of stimulant-related arrests for the first time since such records became available in 1958, according to a National Police Agency summary released on Thursday.

The number of those aged between 10 and 19 charged in marijuana-related cases topped 1,000 for the first time, indicating that cannabis use among young people is becoming an increasingly serious problem, according to the summary.

The number of individuals arrested in marijuana-related cases increased by 1,140 from 2022. Of the 6,482 individuals charged, 3,545 were in their 20s, an increase of 692 people, and 1,222 were between 10 and 19, a rise of 310 people. In total, people aged in their 20s or younger accounted for 73.5% of those charged. In addition, 974 people in their 30s were charged, an increase of 43 people from 2022.

The number of those between 10 and 19 charged in marijuana-related cases has been rising in recent years and has soared about 15-fold since 2014, when 80 individuals were charged. The figures also showed that people of younger ages are increasingly being caught with cannabis, with the number of high school students leaping 1.4-fold from the previous year to 214 and the number of junior high students about doubling to 21.

According to a survey the agency conducted in October and November on 1,060 individuals charged on suspicion of simple possession of marijuana, 52.5% of respondents said they used the drug for the first time when “aged under 20.” This was an increase of about 16 percentage points from the 36.4% who gave the same answer during a similar survey conducted in 2017.

The most common reason individuals of all ages gave for trying the drug was “curiosity or interest.” A majority of those aged under 20 said they knew where to buy marijuana online. About 90% said they used X (formerly Twitter) to acquire such information.

In 2023, the street price for one gram of marijuana was ¥5,000, or about one-thirteenth the ¥66,000 a similar volume of stimulant drugs cost. Given that 16 is the age when the number of those charged tends to increase, the agency plans to strengthen efforts to educate high school students about marijuana because it believes that acquiring the drug has become easier and awareness about the harm of using it is declining.

In a related development, 5,914 individuals were arrested in stimulant-related cases in 2023, a decline of 210 from the previous year.