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See also:
See also: Fibre, food, fuel, Medicine, Religion, Law
See also: Drug risks, Harm reduction through Regulation
See also: Alcohol, Tobacco, Speed, Opium, Coffee, TV
See also: Psychoactive Hemp, Marijuana prices in Japan, How many users?

Hemp and marijuana
Click here to see pictures of Japanese kiseru pipes
You may have heard about marijuana and that it is supposed to be the same as hemp. It is considered a "drug" and it's illegal. We are told that "drugs" are illegal because they are addictive and dangerous. Is this true? What is marijuana and what does it do? What are "drugs" and why are they illegal? Let's answer these questions one by one!

See also: Definition of Cannabis, Hemp, Marijuana.
See also: But isn't cannabis (marijuana) a "drug" (mayaku)?
See also: What are the effects of Marijuana?
See also: How long has marijuana been illegal in Japan?
See also: Why was marijuana made illegal in Japan?
See also: Ethnic conflict in America
See also: Alcohol prohibition in America
See also: "Reefer Madness"
See also: What Scientists say about about marijuana
See also: Why Marijuana is still illegal
See also: Links

Definition of Cannabis, Hemp, Marijuana
Girl smoking a joint
Hemp (jap. asa or taima) is the common English (Japanese) name for the plant that is botanically known as cannabis sativa L. Some strains of this plant are rich in a substance called THC which has euphoriant and medicinal properties. THC-rich cannabis hemp is also known as "Indian hemp" and it is consumed for medicinal, recreational or spiritual purposes in two primary forms: As dried leaves and flowers ("marijuana") or as compressed resin and ground plant material ("hashish"). It is either inhaled or eaten. In China and India it has been used as a medicine for at least 5000 years and is probably one of the most thorougly researched drugs in the world.

Hemp is also one of oldest and one the most important fibre and oilseed plants. Hemp and marijuana are from the same plant species but are not necessarily the same substance. Most industrial hemp is unsuitable as a drug. Varieties of the plant grown for fibre and seed are usually low in THC (< 1% THC) and high in CBD which counteracts the THC, making these plants completely unusable as a recreational drug. Industrial hemp is explicitly exempt from international drug treaties. Under international drug treaties industrial hemp need not be subject to stricter regulations than spinach or tomatoes. Horticultural purposes are also exempt.

But isn't cannabis (marijuana) a "drug" (mayaku)?
In Japan whether a substance is considered "mayaku" or not depends not on how strong or how harmful its effects are but only on whether a law has been passed against possession of that substance. There are some substances that are considered "mayaku" (you can go to jail for possessing them), yet there are plants that contain these same substances that are perfectly legal to possess or use. Don't assume that all laws make sense: After all, they are made by bureaucrats and politicians...

The word "drug" as used by drug abuse experts in English-speaking countries means any substance with an effect on the central nervous system. This does include alcohol, nicotine in tobacco and caffeine in coffee and tea. It also includes marijuana and various other prohibited substances. All these substances have physiological effects on the central nervous system and all can be used harmfully.

There's been a law against almost any substance that people take for pleasure, somewhere, sometime. Alcohol was prohibited in America in 1919. Marijuana was legal there until 1937. Tobacco was the first drug ever to be banned in Japan (in 1603), even before opium (1846). Both tobacco and coffee were prohibited in many parts of Germany in the 18th century. That doesn't mean those laws did much good. Most modern "drug" prohibition laws only came into being as recently as after the two World Wars and the driving force behind them came from the USA. Some of these relatively new laws prohibit plants that for thousands of years had been cultivated and used with little or no harm to society.

Marijuana is often called a "soft drug" because it is far less dangerous than heroin, cocaine or "speed", the substances that most people think of when they hear the word "drug". Many drugs experts consider marijuana less harmful to your health than alcohol and tobacco. According to these scientists, cannabis is about as addictive as coffee.

The United Nations estimate that despite the harsh penalties in force in most countries, there are 145 million recreational cannabis users worldwide, about 2.5% of the world population. More people worldwide use cannabis than live in Japan. On a worldwide basis cannabis is by far the most popular illegal drug. In most developed countries as many as 15-50% of young people have tried it while some 3-10% of the population currently use cannabis, most of them not daily.

While many Japanese still think of taima or marifuana as an addictive narcotic and little is mentioned about it in public life, use of marijuana is certainly spreading in Japan. As many as one in 50 Japanese may have used it already. In the eye of the law all these people are criminals and they could go to prison if caught.

The Japanese public needs accurate information on the effects of drugs to chose the best policy to address harm from any drug abuse. People need to know why marijuana became illegal, what it's effects are and if severe criminal sanctions against growing, possession and sale of the plant are the best way of reducing harm to society and to individuals.

What are the effects of cannabis?
Cannabis is not like alcohol. It's not like LSD. It's not like heroin. Every drug acts differently.

In many ways the effects of marijuana are much more subtle than those of alcohol. Even in high doses the sense of balance is not affected and speech is not slurred. Often there is remarkably little external evidence of use of the drug as users behave fairly normally. Marijuana may reduce anxiety and relax the user while at the same time intensifying experiences of the senses, such as sound, taste or touch. This often leads to the "munchies", a suddenly stimulated appetite. Cannabis tends to make people laugh more and often they like to engage in long conversations. People don't tend to feel bored as easily and their feeling of self-worth improves. It may reduce inhibitions without being associated with increased aggression as alcohol is.

Experience of time is slightly distorted, for example leading people who drive under its influence (something that we do not encourage!) to drive more slowly as they over-estimate their own speed (see an Australian study for a comparison of the traffic accidents risks of alcohol and cannabis).

Cannabis temporarily affects short term memory so users might be a little forgetful while the drug is effective. They don't always remember what they talked about in those conversations. Memory function returns to normal within a few hours.

As normally used it does not cause what are commonly called hallucinations. You don't see or hear things that aren't there. You don't forget who you are or where you are. You still know that you are under the influence of the drug.

With smoked marijuana the effects start within seconds and last one to four hours while with orally ingested marijuana the effects start after about an hour and can last from two hours to a whole day. The effects generally wear off more quickly than with alcohol, but they last longer than with tobacco, which is why marijuana smokers smoke far less than tobacco smokers. After the effects wear off there is no hangover and there are no withdrawal symptoms.

Marijuana is not effective for all people. Many who try it don't experience any effects at all. For others the effects are experienced as unpleasant and they never try it again. With novice users, excessive doses and in unpleasant surroundings there can be panic reactions, but all effects safely wear off within a few hours.

Though there is some concern about long term effects of smoke in general, marijuana as such is non-toxic and it does not harm the brain, liver or other organs. None of the risks associated with smoking (primarily bronchitis) apply to marijuana consumed in food (e.g. cookies, tea).

There is no known case of a single person ever dying from an overdose of marijuana. It is safer to take too much marijuana than too much aspirin, a common over-the-counter medicine. 50 doses of aspirin are lethal, but it takes an estimated 40,000 doses of marijuana.

See also:
See also: WHO-report comparing alcohol, tobacco and marijuana
See also: Affidavit by Dr. Grinspoon (Harvard Medical School, 1997)
See also: Marijuana myths (by Paul Hager)

See also: Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?
See also: Harm reduction through Regulation

How long has marijuana been illegal in Japan?
Although the history of cannabis hemp in Japan goes back to the neolithic Jomon era, thousands of years ago, cannabis was not made illegal in the country until after the defeat in World War II. Few people nowadays realize that it was the American military occupation government of General McArthur (himself a tobacco smoker) that passed the Hemp Control Act in 1948, the first hemp prohibition law in the entire history of Japan. Marijuana most certainly was not made illegal in Japan because it was dangerous. In 5000 years of recorded worldwide hemp history not a single death has been attributable to an overdose of marijuana, while hundreds of thousands of people are killed by tobacco and alcohol every year.

Even though cannabis was grown on each of the major islands on the Japanese archipelago there was no record of abuse problems with the drug. During the Meiji and Taisho era drug hemp from India could be freely imported, as it was in all major Western countries during the 19th century, when Indian hemp was commonly used medically. During the 17th century the Tokugawa shogunate (military government) had once tried to ban cultivation and use of tobacco. Opium smoking was banned during the late Edo era, yet hemp had at no time before American occupation been illegal in Japan. We don't think this was because all Japanese was non-psychoactive. There are several reasons to believe that psychoactive cannabis was available before 1948, but the availability simply never led to problems. There was no valid reason to prohibit the possession and cultivation of this natural plant. Marijuana prohibition was a break with millennia old Japanese culture.

Why was marijuana made illegal in Japan?
Marijuana was made illegal in Japan by the American military occupation government for the simple reason that it was already illegal in the USA where it had been banned in 1937. The military occupation government was plainly worried that US soldiers would end up smoking Japanese hemp while stationed there. The widely used and more harmful amphetamines (stimulant drugs) were not banned until several years later, because at the time they were legal in America.

From as early as 1912 the U.S. has tried to export its domestic drugs policy and forced other countries to emulate it even though it has been anything but a model of success. Since the late 19th century America has experimented with prohibitions of various substances and, not by coincidence, in most cases the prohibited substances happened to be associated with specific ethnic minorities that were unpopular at the time. The first US federal drug law specifically targetted Chinese immigrants. Japanese and Chinese were called the "Yellow Peril".

Ethnic conflict in America
We have to remember what kind of society the America of the 1920s and 1930s was. The racist Ku-Klux Klan had millions of members across the segregated American South. During the Great Depression of the 1930s many Whites were afraid of losing their jobs to Blacks or Hispanic immigrants who would work for less money. For the first time in its history the United States considerably restricted immigration. In those days immigrants from Japan could never become US citizens, even if they had lived in America since childhood. During World War II over 110,000 Japanese immigrants and their descendents, 2/3 of them US citizens, were interned in camps by the same administration that had marijuana banned. Until as late as 1946 a Japanese person could not get married to a white person in California.

Alcohol prohibition: The "noble experiment"
There was a time when even in America selling alcohol was a crime but selling marijuana was still legal. It was called alcohol prohibition and it was really an attempt to stop Irish, German, Italian and Polish workers from drinking beer and Southern Blacks from drinking whisky. When alcohol was made illegal in the USA in 1919 through a constitutional ammendment, that legal act was supposed to eradicate alcoholism and violence. Instead, the new law led to rapid growth of organised crime, widespread corruption of the police forces and general disrespect for all laws. Al Capone became the most notorious criminal in America, so famously rich that it was easier to jail him for tax evasion than for his crime empire. Alcohol prohibition was a total failure. However, it was enacted because in a Protestant-dominated America, alcohol was associated with recent immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Spain, most of whom were Catholics. Indeed the father of John F. Kennedy, the first catholic US president, made his fortune as an alcohol smuggler during Prohibition.

"Reefer Madness"
Ethnic prejudice was also behind marijuana laws, which were first enacted in the Southwest and South of the USA. Around and after World War I many poor Mexican immigrants escaping from the turmoil of the Mexican revolution started coming into America and brought with them the habit of smoking hemp, which also became popular amongst Blacks, especially the musicians in New Orleans who around 1910 created a new style of music called Jazz. Partly this popularity was because of high prices of black-market alcohol after 1919.

These minorities then became the target of a racist propaganda campaign by the "yellow press" newspapers which depicted marijuana as a "killer weed", a drug so dangerous that it would turn ordinary people into crazy blood-thirsty killers. The public was told that marijuana drives people insane and makes them uncontrollably violent. None of the claims that led to marijuana prohibition was ever substantiated, but when the claims were repeated often enough people believed them anyway.

The 1937 "Marihuana Tax Act" taima cd that followed was a drug prohibition law dressed up as a tax law to avoid it being declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, (which threw out the law anyway, in 1969). It was the first federal law against marijuana in 300 years of history of a country whose first and third presidents, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had both grown marijuana on their farms. By criminalising marijuana, Blacks and Hispanics could now easily be arrested, jailed and intimidated. The Marijuana Tax Act was an instrument of racism, pure and simple. The drugs laws provided a tool for persecuting ethnic minorities, just like with alcohol prohibition.

When marijuana was banned in the USA there was no credible evidence that its use caused any significant problems. When the 1937 "Marihuana Tax Act" taima CD-ROM was prepared even Dr Woodward, the representative of the American Medical Association (AMA) objected to prohibiting the drug taima CD-ROM and asked where the evidence for its harmfulness was.

Essentially marijuana was banned because that provided a tool for harassing the people amongst whom its use was popular, such as ethnic minorities and Jazz musicians. In the 1960s when marijuana became popular amongst young people in the West and in Japan the same drug laws provided a convenient tool to harrass anti-war protestors. Nowadays 70% of all marijuana arrests in Japan are amongst people under 30, people who have little power or status in Japanese society.

What Scientists say about about marijuana
In 1944, seven years after the Marijuana Tax Act a multi-year scientific inquiry by the New York Academy of Medicine taima cd on behalf of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia found that, contrary to all the propaganda, the drug did not induce violence, insanity or sex crimes, or lead to addiction or other drug use. Every one of the claims that led to its prohibition was effectively discredited.

Every major inquiry into marijuana ever conducted, from the report of the Indian Hemp Drug Commission taima cd in the 1890s in the British colony of India to European and Australian studies one century later, has come to the same conclusions: That marijuana is a relatively benign drug and that criminalising its users does more harm than good. Some examples:

  • USA: After a sharp rise in marijuana arrests in the late 1960s, President Nixon requested an inquiry into the drug. In 1972 the hand-picked commission headed by Republican ex-governor Shafer recommended decriminalising the drug taima cd but amonst the turmoil of the Watergate scandal its findings were ignored by the federal government, though it contributed to the decriminalisation of cannabis in 12 states of the USA.

  • Holland: The 1972 Baan-report suggested tolerating marijuana and to separate markets for marijuana and for hard drugs, which actually happened in 1976. Today, after more than three decades of open marijuana sales in coffee shops, not only are there fewer problems with hard drugs, but marijuana use rates are also low: Only 3% of the Dutch population smoke marijuana, vs. 5% in the USA where laws are still strict.
    "Dutch teenagers get among the highest scores in the world on international science and mathematics tests. If there are serious problems caused by legalising marijuana, then twenty-plus years of the Dutch experiment has not revealed what they are." (New Scientist)

  • UN: In 1995 a report by an expert team for the World Health Organisation (WHO) compared the effects of marijuana against those of alcohol and nicotine and found marijuana benign by comparison. The WHO under Japanese director Nakajima tried to suppress that part of the report even though it had been peer-reviewed by other experts for two years.
  • Germany: In 1994 the German Supreme Court told the states to decriminalise small scale cannabis possession. The judges asked the Federal government to re-evaluate its cannabis laws so conservative Health Minister Seehofer ordered a $500,000 scientific study. In 1997 "Cannabiskonsum in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" was released and found that only 2% of cannabis consumers who had not used other illicit drugs were psychologically dependent on cannabis, a rate far better than for alcohol.
  • France: In 1998 a panel of ten drug experts prepared a report for French minister of health Bernard Kouchner: Drugs were grouped into three categories of dangerousness, with marijuana alone in the least dangerous and both alcohol and heroin in the most dangerous group.
    "The authors point out that governments base their decisions whether or not to criminalise a drug on its ability to induce dependence. They conclude that the official classification for some drugs is incorrect." (New Scientist)
  • USA: In 1999 a $900,000 study ("Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base") ordered by US "Drug Czar" McCaffrey views the evidence. Its finds:
    • marijuana has some well established medical uses,
    • it does not lead to harder drugs (gateway or stepping stone theory)
    • it's addiction potential is not very serious and
    • it's side effects are within the range tolerated for other legal medicines.
  • Switzerland: In 1999 a Swiss federal government commission that had studied the situation recommended licensing sales of cannabis to Swiss adults. Panelists made their recommendation after determining that marijuana posed little danger as a gateway drug and negligible health risks compared to legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. The experts also acknowledged that marijuana prohibition failed to discourage widespread use of the drug.
  • Many of these drug studies and others are available in part or in full on the internet.

    See also:
    See also: Major International Studies on Marijuana and Drug Policy taima cd

    Why Marijuana is still illegal
    Marijuana is not illegal because of what we know about it but because of what people can be made to believe about it. Most people have no personal experience with marijuana and rely on what they are told by the state and the mass media. Those who know better from personal experience do not stand up and speak out, for fear of being prosecuted for breaking the law.

    The government doesn't want to change the law either, since the fear of arrest is useful. It makes many citizens stay quiet. Politicians like citizens who don't cause them trouble and so does the police. Politicians can always use drug abuse as an excuse for all kinds of social problems that they are unwilling to address. By playing on people's fears of drugs politicians can justify new laws that ristrict civil liberties and give the state more power. Simply put, drug prohibition creates fear and fear helps to manipulate and control people. That's why this sad situation has become self-perpetuating.

    We need to break this vicious circle. Marijuana prohibition in Japan will only end when scientific facts replace ignorance, propaganda and prejudice. That's why we have created this website.

    Good introductions to the subject of drug prohibition are:

    See also:
    See also: Basic Facts about the Drug War taima cd by Clifford Schaffer
    See also: Drug war facts by Common Sense for Drug Policy

    Here is some information about specific drugs in Japan:

    See also: What are the risks of drugs?
    See also: Harm reduction through Regulation
    See also: How many marijuana users are there in Japan?
    See also: How expensive is marijuana in Japan?
    See also: The Hemp Control Law
    See also: The "Hemp in Japan" library

    Other drugs:
    See also: Alcohol
    See also: Nicotine (Tobacco)
    See also: Amphetamines (Speed)
    See also: Opium
    See also: Caffeine (Coffee)
    See also: Television
    See also: OGD report 1997/98 on Japan

    Do you have any comments about this article?

    See also:
    See also: Hemp in religion, for fibre, food and fuel, as medicine
    See also: Psychoactive Hemp, Marijuana prices in Japan, How many users?

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