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You’ll Not Want to Get Caught with Cannabis in Japan!

japan cannabis
Written by Sarah Friedman

These days it’s more common than not to see a new country relax their cannabis policy. But that’s not a global truth, and countries like Japan are a good reminder of this.

When it comes to cannabis, there are some countries that travelers can go to with the expectation of smoking themselves silly, buying new CBD products, or however else immersing themselves in weed culture, whether to stave off a medical issue, or for enjoyment. Japan is not one of those places.

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Japan and Cannabis

It’s illegal. Every part of it. And while that sums up the bottom line as of right now, as with any topic where there is a discrepancy between a country’s federal laws, and the behavior of the people, Japan and its relationship with cannabis is yet another example of a burgeoning standoff between people and government.

The laws

In Japan, the regulation of cannabis is done through the 1948 Cannabis Control Law. The following stipulations apply:

  • Cannabis refers to every part of the plant aside from the stalk. This means that all cannabinoids including the non-psychoactive, and very medically relevant, CBD (cannabidiol) are included.
  • Only people with a government clearance can cultivate, handle, or transfer cannabis in any way, and government clearances are generally for research. Those that do handle it for research purposes are obliged to do so according to the guidelines set down by the Ministry of Health and Welfare Ordinance. There are also many restrictions on who can even apply for this ability. All handlers of cannabis are kept in a records book, and all approved applications expire at the end of the current calendar year.
  • Apart from those who fall into the above category, no citizen can import or export it.
  • Medicinal marijuana is illegal in all forms (including all extracted cannabinoids).
  • The only advertisements for cannabis can be those geared toward professionals (medical or otherwise related).
  • Unlawfully cultivating, exporting, or importing cannabis into Japan carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.
  • Using cannabis carries a prison sentence of up to five years, and possibly a fine of two million yen (approximately $19,200), this includes medical uses.
  • Assisting anyone else in breaking one of these laws carries a prison sentence of up to three years.
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An extra provision?

While these are the basics of Japanese cannabis law (and they are certainly restrictive enough), there’s one more possible provision that has come into view recently, and it might be a bit of an overreach, even for Japan. Whether there is actually a legal basis is hard to tell, and it could be nothing more than a scare tactic – and a rather desperate one at that – but regardless of whether it actually holds any water, it’s a little disconcerting.

In light of the recent Canadian legalization of cannabis nationally, the Japanese government issued warnings to its nationals abroad that using cannabis outside of Japan was just as illegal as using it inside. In October of 2018, the Japanese consulate in Vancouver stated that Japanese law outlawing cannabis use might still be applicable to citizens overseas, and went on to ask Japanese citizens there to continue respecting their native cannabis laws.

Of course, as weirdly Big Brother as this is, the ability for the Japanese government to really take action is hindered by the inability to prove anything officially, and the whole thing becomes a little silly. Silly enough that John Babcock, the Global Affairs Canada spokesperson, issued a response to the Japan Times reiterating a point that shouldn’t have had to be said: that Canada’s legalization doesn’t have any effect on the border laws of the country, and not on any other country either.

There doesn’t actually seem to be an official provision regarding overseeing the actions of citizens abroad, and there don’t seem to have been any cases made by the Japanese government against a citizen for their actions concerning cannabis use abroad. Having said that, it does say something about the mindset of the Japanese government, and it certainly signals a level of frustration and desperation on the subject.

Cannabis on the rise in Japan

No one will ever say that Japan didn’t put in the effort, and that can be said for Japan on many subjects. When it comes to cannabis, they’ve sure been doing what they can, holding out against changing times, more liberal leanings, and a world of medical research.

While it’s understood that a government might take time to warm up to changing times and population needs, the Japanese government has not done well to update with the times, even with a population that is growing tired of these extreme laws. An exasperation that can be seen in rising numbers of cannabis users. After all, when it comes to cannabis approval, the idea of social acceptance runs strong, and many other governments have already felt the burn of growing resistance to what are essentially outdated laws.

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While it might sound like a low number in comparison to a place like the US, in 2018 there were 3,578 cases relating to cannabis in Japan, which is 570 more than the year before. Of these cases, 42.5% involves those in their 20’s.

This goes along with a number of celebrity cases that have come up in the country regarding pop singer and former member of Japanese boy-band KAT-TUN Junnosuke Taguchi and his partner Rena Komie (both suspected of harboring a massive 2.3 grams of marijuana), actress Saya Takagi who was found guilty of possession and received a suspended sentence, TV and music celebrity Masashi Tashiro who was found with cannabis and stimulants and sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Also Olympic snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo who received a three year sentence for smuggling cannabis from the US. It should also be noted here that this goes beyond standard celebrity, and has reached higher levels with Mitsuhiro Fukuzawa, an advisor to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology being arrested for the possession of both stimulant drugs and cannabis a year ago.

Hi-tech cannabis

One of the interesting (almost funny, and certainly ironic) aspects of Japanese cannabis culture is how they manage to get it around in a country that is so restrictive. In an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department division for juvenile delinquency, an analysis between January 2018 – June 2019 was carried out which showed increasingly easy access to drugs via the internet, especially for younger generations.

In fact, those that have purchased in that way claim it’s rather easy. This is even more out in the open then – say – the Israeli Telegrass which operated over encrypted network Telegram, allowing dealers to find customers. In both cases the use of technological advances have aided in the proliferation of drugs.

An interesting takeaway from the article that mentioned the analysis was the seeming lack of information given to younger generations about drugs in general, to the point that advertisements online for drugs often extol their health benefits. This might be true of cannabis, but it is not a universal truth of drugs, and ultimately a dangerous mindset.

The article didn’t explicitly state a lack of education on the subject, but given the responses of those questioned that drugs were ‘harmless’ or ‘rather healthy’, does give an implication about a general lack of overall knowledge. Plus, it’s hardly uncommon for countries with strict drug laws to have bad educational policies on the topic as well.


When it comes to high-tech, Japan is certainly a front-running country. When it comes to cannabis laws, Japan is sadly at the very back of the line, showing that even a country as innovative and forward thinking as Japan in some ways, can easily get stuck in the stone ages in others. However, as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, things do change over time, and in the case of cannabis regulation, the world is generally moving toward a looser structure, implying that even countries like Japan will likely come around eventually.

Thanks for dropping in at CBDtesters. Check back frequently and subscribe to the CBD Business Weekly Newsletter to stay up to date on the ever-changing world of cannabis regulation, and medical exploration.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.