Fibre, food, fuel, Marijuana, Medicine, Religion
Marijuana prices in Japan
How many people use marijuana in Japan?
Hemp prohibition in Japan
The Cannabis Control Law (English version)
At the time there wasn't any talk about a "marijuana problem" in Japan. The law seems to have been passed only because a few years earlier a similar law had been passed in the USA. Far more harmful and then already widely abused amphetamines remained legal because at the time they were legal in the USA too.
The cannabis law as originally drafted by the occupation government would have prohibited all hemp cultivation. Fortunately, the Japanese side was able to convince the military government to adopt a permit system instead, where license holders were able to grow and possess cannabis, so that hemp cultivation which then employed thousands of farmers could continue legally to this day.
After Japan regained its sovereignity the new hemp law was widely ignored for about two decades as no one understood why it had been passed at all.
Then, in the late 1960s, when the USA was fighting a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam, there was growing opposition to this war in Japan, which was and still is a major base for American involvement in Asia. Students and other members of the "counter culture" were found to be growing hemp and the until then forgotten law was suddenly applied to prosecute them. They couldn't be arrested for their political views, as they would have been during the military dictatorship of the 1940s, but their use of a forbidden plant made it possible to target them anyway.
People go to jail for possessing less than one gram of hemp and they face many social penalties too (loss of job, expulsion from schools, etc.). Theoretically you can go to prison for five years for a single joint. Larger quantities, cultivation or smuggling will lead to prison sentences of up to seven years. Smugglers caught with a few hundred grams to a few kg of cannabis are routinely sent to prison for 3-4 years. Discipline in Japanese prisons is extremely strict and conditions are harsh.
All foreigners caught with marijuana will be deported after having served their sentence, with a life-time ban on returning into the country (even someone as famous as Paul McCartney wasn't re-admitted until 11 years later). Japan has a general policy of refusing entry to all foreigners with a criminal record on controlled substance violations.
If Japan wants to stop driving its youth into the hands of hard drug dealing gangsters it should consider decriminalising cannabis possession for personal use. Many experts argue that markets for soft and hard drugs should be separated. The Netherlands decriminalised small scale cannabis possession 28 years ago and the country now has not only far fewer problems with hard drugs than the USA which have declared a "War on Drugs" but also a lower rate of cannabis use (see NL vs. USA).
International Drug Treaties do not mandate that signatory countries prohibit use or possession of cannabis, nor do they require that people who use use or possess cannabis be imprisoned. They leave that choice up to the lawmakers of each signatory country (see Article 2 and 28 of the 1961 Single Convention).
Under the Japanese Cannabis Control Act there is no minimum sentence for cannabis possession -- cannabis use itself is not specifically prohibited. Japan would not even have to change its law on cannabis to decriminalize users. Instead of sending users to prison the police or courts could issue small fines, like a parking ticket. Police officers could be given the discretion to decide for themselves whether or not to pursue small scale possession or cultivation cases, provided certain conditions are met (age limits, no use in public, no driving while under the influence, etc.). If they consider that under the circumstances it would not be the most productive use of their time they should not be forced to make arrests.
As long as fines can be imposed or cannabis sales are taxed the government would still express its disapproval of cannabis use. Since it is neither physically addictive nor particularly harmful, most users never have a problem from marijuana use itself. Only a small minority of users develops a psychological depedendency (about 2% according to a German study) and they are better off if they can seek professional help without fear of getting arrested. Decriminalisation would avoid giving often young users a criminal record, which is likely to be the major harm associated with cannabis. It would also free up valuable resources for fighting gangsters and violent crime.
There are signs that the police is gradually becoming aware that marijuana is not like hard drugs and that its users are not dangerous criminals. However, this process will only progress as police, lawmakers and the general public are educated about the facts. One possible outcome may be an informal system of tolerance where police turn a blind eye to cannabis violations as they tend to do with cash payouts out by pachinko gambling parlors or "delivery health" (call girl) services, which are both illegal but ignored.
Many other countries (for example, Germany, Austria and Switzerland) do not require any licenses for farmers to grow hemp for non-drug purposes. Current Japanese industrial hemp regulations far exceed what is required by United Nations drug treaties that Japan has ratified. These treaties specifically exempt hemp grown for non-drug use from any required controls:
Another, more difficult to obtain license permits cultivation of other strains and is usually only granted for medical or other research.