Hemp prohibition in Japan
I haven't seen any official or semi-official estimates for marijuana user numbers in Japan, only numbers for "speed". The annual arrest figures there are 20,000, half of which are users and half yakuza (gangsters) who are selling. The number of users was estimated at 50-100 times arrest numbers. These estimated 1-2 million speed users constitute roughly the same percentage of the population as the percentage of Americans who take cocaine or crack (which have similar effects as speed) or other hard drugs. So much for the myth of drug-free Japan. Where Japan is really different is that it hasn't got six or more times more marijuana users than users of illegal "white powders". To estimate the number of marijuana users we can at least take the 1-2 million Japanese who take hard drugs as an indication of the limited deterrent effect of the law. Japanese have a reputation for being law-abiding folk, but not all act the same and there are other areas such as gambling, prostitution and income taxes where the laws are widely broken.
One problem is that there are few polls about drugs in Japan, as it's considered a taboo subject. I have yet to see a single government estimate for numbers of users and for amounts of drugs consumed. They frankly don't want to know. I've been to the Ministry of Health and Welfare website and there was no data at all on illegal drug users. I looked at the Ministry of Justice too. Nothing. The UNDCP also doesn't quote any estimates for Japan even though considering its GDP (six times the size of China's and maybe ten times India's) it probably is the most lucrative drug market in Asia.
One unreliable indicator are arrest figures. Unreliable because there is no full scale anti-marijuana campaign as in the USA. There is virtually no drug testing of employees. Japanese law enforcement seems largely unable to intercept smuggling vessels off its shores. The first large scale shipment of cannabis hidden in commercial freight in a shipping container was only intercepted in October 1998. If yakuza can smuggle in dozens of Chinese at a time, how much easier are drugs?
The ones getting caught generally are either couriers at airports or users selling to their friends who get jumped on because they screw up some other way. Like the reporter who staged a robbery while on amphetamines or the lamp grower in Akita who got busted because he messed around with a girl he met through a date club who was only 15. Since most marijuana users are otherwise law-abiding citizens that makes it very difficult to quote any ratio between who does what and who gets caught. The fact that cannabis distribution is not generally the domain of the yakuza would suggest that fewer of it would involve a criminal fringe element than is the case for "speed", hiding it from the eye of the law.
Since stimulant drugs (amphetamines, "speed") are more popular in Japan than hallocinogenic drugs, cannabis users should number somewhat fewer than the estimated 1-2 million "speed" users. Some 10% of all drug arrests are for cannabis and 1/3 of students who admit they are interested in trying drugs say they are interested in cannabis. That might put the number of cannabis users at anywhere between 1/10 and 1/3 of the 1-2 million who are believed to use speed. That would be 100,000-700,000 cannabis users, about one tenth of the percentage in other industrialized countries even at the high end of the range.
If marijuana had the same detection rate as amphetamines then one would expect about 75,000-150,000 users, or roughly 1 in a thousand. It is unlikely that there are much fewer users than that. However, there are important differences in how these two drugs are produced and distributed in Japan to make a direct comparison based only on arrest figures misleading. While the production of "speed" involves the use of tightly controlled precursor chemicals that are usually imported from China or the Philippines, marijuana is basically hemp, a natural plant that grows wild in some parts of Japan.
There may well be 100,000-200,000 urban cannabis users who account for most of the arrests and up to 600,000 rural users who have much less impact on the figures. 40% of all marijuana arrests are in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area alone, although only 10% of the population of the country live there. Probably a fair amount of the other 60% of arrests is in other large cities such as Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, etc. Experience from other countries shows that domestically produced drugs tend to be at least as common in the countryside as in the big cities.
The police does not go out of its way to hunt down growers, though when tipped off they will make arrests. I have been told that the most common way people are busted is through tipoffs from family members who fear that their hemp-smoking youngsters are addicted to a dangerous drug and who want to shock them out of drug use by turning them over to the police. Other cases arise out of searches that reveal rolling papers, which arouse suspicion.
Another interesting figure would be users amongst the expatriate community, both "hakujin" and South/South-East Asian/African. I've heard there's a clandestine smoker scene amongst English teachers and other expatriates. Most English teachers are young males who are risk takers. This figure is of little consequence for politics though, as few of these foreigners will become politically involved and can't vote anyway. The language barrier does not make them very effective advocates either and their social status is usually pretty low. Remember that drug testing scare at NOVA when a New Zealand teacher was busted? Apparently, he got it from New Zealand and had been selling it to students. He must have served his sentence by now and been deported. I have heard of other gaijin English teachers who smoke it and read about one in Yokohama who got busted for growing it on a rented plot of municipal land.
written by Hempman