Skip to main content

Japan’s Ministry Of Health Considers Legalization Of Medical Cannabis

japan flag

The country is considering medical reform and will create a new legal framework to recriminalize adult use

The Ministry of Health in Japan has decided to embark on a path that would seem to indicate that at least medical use of some kinds of cannabis is on track to be authorized soon.

The bad news? The government also apparently intends to become alone in the world to make medical use legal while also planning to specifically penalize recreational users.

As of last week, the Ministry began formal discussions on how to revise the country’s Narcotics Control Act, enacted just after WWII, in 1948. Last year, internal discussions began to lead ministers in the government in the direction of reform after a report discussed the medical efficacy of the drug on diseases like epilepsy. The Ministry of Health intends to draw up proposals before the end of this summer.

All G-7 countries, with the exception of Japan, have approved the use of CBD-based drugs to treat epilepsy.

Going Sideways?

That said, it is not clear how fast the country will move on cannabis reform more generally. The governmental inquiry is also discussing a new provision to the Control Act that specifically criminalizes recreational use while providing a medical exception to patients. There are also expected to be harsh penalties for the consumption of recreational cannabis.

This is a country with a long and tortured cannabis history. In 1980, former Beatles member, Paul McCartney visited the country with about 8 ounces in his possession. He was subsequently banned from the country for 11 years.

The government also made international headlines in 2018, clearly targeting Japanese nationals living in North America when it forbade its ex-pat citizens to use cannabis even if living in a country where its use was legal.

More recently, this February, a U.S. Marine received two years of hard labour for importing a half-gallon of cannabis-infused liquid and a quarter pound of cannabis flower. On May 17, a Japanese school nurse was also imprisoned for suspected possession of an unspecified amount of dried cannabis flower.

As of last year, there were 5,400 people charged with illegal possession – a new record for the country. Offenders below thirty accounted for 70% of those arrested. The number of people arrested for possession has doubled since 2017.

While it is unlikely that this strange compromise will hold, Japan, as a result, has certainly entered the global cannabis conversation with a unique “reform” proposal – even if it is, obviously, an unsustainable one long term.