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Japan’s Cannabis Policies Continue To Evolve

Tokyo Japan

You wouldn’t know it by listening to cannabis opponents in Japan, but the nation is home to one of the lowest cannabis usage rates on earth. Lately, it seems that cannabis opponents in Japan have ramped up efforts to try to convince casual policy observers that Japan is experiencing a ‘cannabis usage epidemic.’

In the most recent year for which data is available, Japan experienced a 21.5% increase in measured cannabis consumption compared to the previous year. While that may sound alarming to some lawmakers inside and outside of Japan, consider the fact that less than 2% of people in Japan report having consumed cannabis during their entire lives.

By comparison, 41.5% in Canada report having consumed cannabis during their lifetime, and 44.2% in the United States. The double-digit increase in the consumption rate in Japan is more indicative of how low the overall baseline consumption rate was to begin with than it is indicative of a cannabis use epidemic.

So why does the unfounded rhetoric matter? It matters because that rhetoric is a big reason why Japan’s medical cannabis policies have historically lagged behind other nations located in other parts of the world.

Fortunately, a measure that would permit the distribution and consumption of cannabis-derived medications was recently approved by Japan’s Lower House. The measure would, among other things, permit Epidiolex to be prescribed in Japan. Epidiolex, which contains cannabis-derived cannabidiol (CBD), is already widely available in many parts of the world.

In addition to permitting Epidiolex, the measure would also add cannabis as a banned substance under the Narcotics and Psychotropics Control Law, a violation of which would be punishable by up to seven years in prison. Industrial hemp would still be permitted in Japan.

Meanwhile, a Health Ministry panel in Japan voted in recent days to ban the synthetic cannabinoid HHCH. HHCH is a common ingredient in unregulated products, such as gummies, and is often popular in jurisdictions where real cannabis is prohibited. The use of such products was tied to a recent outbreak of illnesses in Japan, as well as in other nations.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare indicated that the government is also considering banning other substances with chemical structures similar to HHCH. In jurisdictions where adult-use cannabis is permitted, demand for synthetic cannabis products is extremely low.