Japan should change its outdated, U.S.-imposed medical marijuana laws

TOKYO —

In January, Kenichi Narita, a 30-year old Japanese citizen living in San Francisco, applied for medical asylum in the United States. Narita suffers from Crohn’s disease, an incurable inflammatory bowel disorder that can lead to intestinal fistulae, abscesses and obstruction. Like many people with painful and chronic illnesses, Narita has rejected complicated, costly and unreliable drug regimens and has turned instead to marijuana.

Widely considered a legitimate and effective alternative treatment for Crohn’s, marijuana has been responsible for providing relief to Narita and thousands of others. The results—not to mention the studies, testimonials and prescriptions of doctors the world over—speak for themselves. Why, then, is the Japanese government not listening?

The most obvious reason is that cannabis, in all its forms, is illegal in Japan. And not just outlawed, but seriously stigmatized. Remember the winter of 2009, when a handful of celebrity pot busts were enough to splash bong water across the pages of the Japanese dailies? In such a hysterical anti-weed climate, why would the Japanese government rethink their stance on pot, medicinal or not?

Two reasons. First, Japan’s marijuana laws are not their own. The Cannabis Control Act, implemented by the U.S. in 1948 to legitimize its own anti-pot legislation, is in direct opposition to hundreds of years of cannabis use in Japan. No, the Japanese weren’t sitting around, red-eyed and playing Ben Harper songs on a shamisen, but they were making clothing, rope and bowstrings from hemp and using cannabis in Shinto ceremonies. The harsh view of marijuana in Japan is the result of the American laws; it was never the impetus behind them. If the U.S. has so radically changed its own stance on medicinal marijuana, shouldn’t Japan follow suit?

Second, in a country turned nightly into a beer- and shochu-fueled pukescape, only the most adorably ignorant would say marijuana is more harmful than alcohol. Which causes more violence? Or disease and depression? Which is the true gateway drug to impaired driving? To unprotected sex?

There is a wealth of documentation — legitimate, scientific and often government-sanctioned — available for anyone curious about the current medical view of pot. None of the information you will find, however, has its origin in Japan. You would think that in a country where everyone lives to be 200, it would be in the medical establishment’s best interest to follow the rest of the world’s lead and examine pot as both an analgesic and a cure to numerous ailments. But no.

In this case, “marijuana is illegal” does not hold up. An international treaty known as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs states: “A Party shall… prohibit the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of any such drug except for amounts which may be necessary for medical and scientific research only, including clinical trials.” Therefore, it stands that any government which refuses to test marijuana, which refuses to acknowledge its proven benefits, which refuses to alleviate the pain of its citizens, is doing so by choice.

Perhaps an immovable obstacle to progress on the medicinal marijuana question in Japan is the reluctance to publicly discuss health matters, especially those serious and sad. Suffering is often done in silence, and sharing the details can be considered anything from indiscrete to weak. Illness is a private, personal issue here, and that’s not soon to change.

But the feeling is quite the opposite in Western societies, most notably the U.S. Illness is far from taboo; the afflicted are often the most vocal advocates for change. Medicinal marijuana, stem cell research, even reproductive rights and the rights of terminally ill patients to end their lives — any progress made on medical issues during the past two decades began with people acknowledging that sickness should not mean isolation, that suffering and the struggle to live are universal.

Also universal: science. In light of the current, overwhelmingly positive medical view on the therapeutic and restorative effects of marijuana, the Japanese government owes it to its citizens — the millions sick now and the millions who will be in the future — to at least test the theories that so many of the world’s medical professionals now stand behind. Rejecting medical science; that’s ignorance. Arbitrarily clinging to antiquated legislation you have the power to change; that’s incompetence. But ignoring the suffering of your own citizens, citizens like Kenichi Narita?

That’s inexcusable.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

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  • 0

    Dewaashita

    "Suffering is often done in silence, and sharing the details can be considered anything from indiscrete to weak. Illness is a private, personal issue here, and that’s not soon to change."

    In the US, too many cancer sufferers are afraid to say they have cancer. I knew a survivor who called it the "C-word". People treated her like she was contagious because of it.

    Things have changed a little.

  • 0

    Dewaashita

    I am curious, they mentioned the usage in Shinto ceremonies. I knew a little of sake used in the 7-5-3 ceremony but was unaware of this. Would anyone know what ceremony? Or it's purpose/usage or philosophies? Is it used as a traditional foundation for treating cancer?

    I noticed "Tamagawa Onsen’s special hokutolite bedrock, with naturally occurring radium, is thought to be particularly effective against cancer." The article on the onsen just a few articles from this one.

    Thought I'd ask.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    Sounds reasonable, but if the marijuana laws were originally from the US in the 40's, why hasn't there been a paralel relaxation of those laws in Japan as has occurred in America?

  • 0

    ukguyjp

    I've lost count of the number of times I have seen someone become abusive. antisocial and violent due to alcohol. But I've never seen that happen as a result of someone smoking marijuana.

  • 0

    Tokyoapple

    @paulinusa

    I would say follow the money and follow the obsession with tightly controlling society.

  • 0

    Frungy

    There is another issue the author is completely ignoring, which is that of trade and border control. In a large part Japan's strong anti-drug stance is a reflection of the reality of their huge coast-lines that allow easy smuggling. Allow "some" medical marijuana and it becomes difficult to police where it's coming from. There's no way to prove that the bag of medical marijuana the person is holding is really medical marijuana or smuggled in from elsewhere in SE Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippine, etc). And that's only half the issue...

    How would China, the U.S. and other trading partners feel if Japan allowed marijuana usage? While it might not be fair there would be a perception that Japan was opening its borders to drugs.

    The issues here go beyond whether a substance is a good medication or not, and speak rather to policing, trade, and other peripheral effects.

  • 0

    Azoth

    Im of the opinion that america's war on drugs is a complete failure, the fact that we lock people up for possession of a harmless substance like cannibus is insane. We spend billions upon billions of dollars, and we stop, last I read, less than 8% of the traffic flow, and lock up tens of thousands of people on non violent, petty possession charges

    It being a gateway drug is a lie, this is the same government who put out propaganda movies and commercials about how evil it is, and its the "devils weed"

    What’s the worst thing cannibus can cause? The munchies and a more mellow attitude, how horrible is that. It has numerous medical applications, that no man made substance can do half as well, with little to no side effects

  • 0

    Zenny11

    Author is wrong here:

    The most obvious reason is that cannabis, in all its forms, is illegal in Japan.

    Hemp can be grown by authorised Farmers but under strict control and guidelines. Hemp products like string, ropes and clothing is widely sold in japan.

    This whole article sound more like a rant " I want my beloved weed approved" more than a well researched piece, IMHO.

  • 0

    sourpuss

    from crohn's disease treatment to legalization. it's pretty apparent where the original motivation to write this piece came from.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    I knew someone who had Crohn's didease and it is indeed a nasty and horrible thing to suffer from. I can see why people would do anything, including drugs to get relief.

  • 0

    Azoth

    Check out Penn and Teller's video "The war on drugs". It’s an eye opener to people with open minds who don’t let preconceptions get in their way

  • 0

    borscht

    Author is wrong here:

    The most obvious reason is that cannabis, in all its forms, is illegal in Japan.

    Agree with Zenny11 on this as I have a few shirts purchased in Japan that are made of hemp. The author seems to think hemp is hemp when in fact

    • Cannabis sativa L. subsp. is grown for industrial use, while

    • C. sativa subsp. indica is the stuff we smoke and bake into Alice B. Toklas brownies.

    I'm not a lawyer but I think industrial hemp is not illegal in Japan, although, as the author states, getting a license to grow the non-brownie version of hemp is difficult to get.

    Frungy,

    There's no way to prove that the bag of medical marijuana the person is holding is really medical marijuana or smuggled in

    If the police catch someone who claims their marijuana is for medicinal purposes, the police need only ask for their prescription. If they don't have one, viola drug arrest.

  • 0

    Mark_Richards

    It would matter not even if medicinal marajuana cured blindness. Changing the rules means that the US would have to admit that the drug war is a failure and that they are wrong.

    Won't happen.

  • 0

    Dewaashita

    Folks are sometimes scared to say anything for fear they will look like junkies.

    Azoth, just checked out the Penn and Teller's "The War on Drugs". Saw something about a "War on drugs, part two and three". One of the funniest parts, I thought, was "this is your brain, these are your rights, this is your government."

    I think we could all use the laughs.

  • 0

    Frungy

    borscht at 10:01 AM JST - 10th April If the police catch someone who claims their marijuana is for medicinal purposes, the police need only ask for their prescription. If they don't have one, viola drug arrest.

    Not quite that simple. How do you prove the marijuana they have in their possession is in fact the stuff they got at the hospital? In other words one prescription can be illegally "refilled" from the nearest dealer (who would also be carrying his "prescription). Also prescriptions can be copied or faked making it necessary for the police to phone the hospitals and confirm, which is a big waste of police time.

    Cops in areas of the U.S. where medical marijuana has been legalised are already just throwing their hands up in disgust, because it takes so long to request confirmation from a hospital because of privacy issues (it's not as simple as picking up the phone and saying, "Does Mr. X have a prescription for marijuana?").

    A partial unbanning would administratively be the same as a full unbanning.

  • 0

    Foxie

    Medical Marijuana should be included in Kampo.

  • 0

    Kaptankichigai

    @Frungy, -why does it have to be only grown in Japan?. Make importing it legal and taxable but only available with valid prescription. @Zenny-"The most obvious reason is that cannabis, in all its forms, is illegal in Japan.Hemp can be grown by authorised Farmers but under strict control and guidelines. Hemp products like string, ropes and clothing is widely sold in japan. This whole article sound more like a rant " I want my beloved weed approved" more than a well researched piece" -So what? the author had a small factual error. It doesnt change the point he is making in any way so why bother to bring it up? Too bad the author doesnt have all day to Google every sentence he writes and then bestow his internet facilitated genius "research" upon us as do you.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    KaptainKichigai.

    Small factual error that erased some of his later points. Nice attempt but no longer biting on your posts/hooks.

  • 0

    Mangaman

    Why is the government not listening? Because the people who need medicinal marijuana are not enough to guarantee re-election. In fact, they are a waste of time to a politician, maybe even a danger.

  • 0

    proudnippon

    Irie irie, I and I agree

  • 0

    imomofo

    If marijuana becomes legal, the first people to protest it would be the growers. We work with industrial hemp(oil, fabric and hopefully building material). It's the one plant that can be used for almost anything and everything. I just hate it when people compare it to alcohol, heroine or other hard drugs. Marijuana is less addictive than say, your favorite brand of potato chips, and I do not see what the hysteria against mj is about. People who are spitting vitriol against a plant they are not educated on sounds like xenophobic rednecks saying all black people are criminals when they never even been close to a black person.

  • 0

    888naff

    "People who are spitting vitriol against a plant they are not educated on sounds like xenophobic rednecks saying all black people are criminals when they never even been close to a black person."

    So people who are against "the plant" have never come into contact with people that use it to form their opinions....might be true in Japan but not elsewhere. Being blind to the negative impact of things...mmm wonder why that is

  • 0

    gaijintraveller

    I believe Otsuka Pharmaceutical is involved in the production or development of Sativex, a medicinal version of marijuana.

  • -6

    Kentaro75

    The Japanese government will not support legalization of a dangerous drug. The reason we all enjoy the safe environment of Japan is that no drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroine etc are permitted here. We dont want the violence that comes with drug gangs and dealing like we see for example in the U.S. I am happy to keep my nation drug-free from my children...

  • 0

    plasticmonkey

    @Kentaro75

    We dont want the violence that comes with drug gangs and dealing

    You mean decriminalizing or regulating or legalizing marijuana leads to violent gang activity? Is that why there are so many mouthwash and handsoap gangsters in America?

  • 0

    Smorkian

    The Japanese government will not support legalization of a dangerous drug.

    It's not a dangerous drug, that's the point. Cocaine and heroin are dangerous, marijuana is less dangerous than the very widely consumed alcohol.

    This article is pretty poor, though, not a very lucid argument in favor of legalization (which I support, but not under the BS guise of 'medical' purposes).

  • 0

    pointofview

    99.9% of the people in Japan just take every word they hear about weed from the TV as the truth. Wake up and do your own research.

  • 0

    puaokalani

    Most people do not understand what is really happening in the world. The reason pot is still illegal everywhere has nothing to do with whether it is harmful or not.

    No drugs anywhere, should ever be made illegal. The minute you do that, you create a pent-up demand, the price goes up, and violence results.

    I want to make several points: first, it is an abomination that any government, anywhere, would attempt to criminalize the use of a plant.

    Realize that our relationship with plants, both edible and medicinal, is our most primordial and inalienable birthright as human beings on the earth. For eons human beings were living in harmony with nature and learning which plants helped them survive. Cannabis is the safest, and most valuable plant on earth, providing many of life's necessities.

    The black market cash from sales of plants and their extracts that have been deemed illegal, is what keeps international banks liquid, goes into politicians pockets, buys arms for terrorists. At the same time, at the local level, illegal drug sales are often the only economic opportunity for poor people in any given area.

    So, we waste billions of dollars every year, jailing good people who want a safer, more natural medicine. Isn't that clever! Because usually those are the most liberal, creative,and free thinking people, the ones the governments see as a threat to their status quo.

    So, with these unjust laws in place, the conservatives can simply felonize and lock up a growing number of their political opponents. Great way to suppress true democracy.

  • 0

    Monkeyz

    One of the things that exacerbates crohn's disease is stress, so I guess the marijuana makes some sense. There are probably several way more legal, cheaper ways of dealing with that stress, however.

    In the end it's about money, but also about Japan being very black/white about things. Either all drugs are evil or all drugs aren't. Kentaro up there just told us how dangerous marijuana is, and I've heard from a lot of Japanese adults how awful and deadly-dangerous it is as well.

    Since drugs and drug use aren't so prevalent, I think the first step is going to be convincing Japanese people that there are "bad" drugs and "less bad" drugs. (I don't think pot is harmless, but the effect is generally extreme laziness rather than violence or harmful health effects.) It's kind of ironic, since Japan is the second largest consumer of prescription drugs in the world and they're so fiercely anti-drug. But if they love their prescriptions but hate the "illegal" drugs, perhaps if they can just shift mj from one category to the other, there will be a shift in the mentality too.

    viola drug arrest.

    So, do they play the viola during the arrest, or was the viola high on crack? I'm not sure what a viola drug arrest is supposed to be. (Moderators often complain about lose/loose even when it doesn't affect the discussion, so I see no reason why I can't complain about viola/voila.)

  • 0

    ExportExpert

    **only the most blatantly ignorant would say marijuana is more harmful than alcohol. **

    **Rejecting medical science; that’s ignorance. Arbitrarily clinging to antiquated legislation you have the power to change; that’s incompetence. But ignoring the suffering of your own citizens, citizens like Kenichi Narita?

    That’s inexcusable.**

    Exactly !

  • 0

    borscht

    The reason we all enjoy the safe environment of Japan is that no drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin etc are permitted here.

    First, I agree that the highly addictive cocaine and heroin should not be legalized - although there is a medical use for heroin. But marijuana is not of the same ilk. It's not as addictive and I've yet to hear of marijuana users turn to violence as much as alcohol users.

    An alcoholic friend was told by his doctor that perhaps he should switch to marijuana as it was less physically and mentally debilitating. Unfortunately, he loved the sauce and voila! (Thanks Monkeyz) died an alcoholic.

  • 0

    gaijintraveller

    Kentaro75 says: "The Japanese government will not support legalization of a dangerous drug." Yet the Japanese government approves the sale of tobacco that causes many deaths from cancer and alcohol that every year takes the lives of many university students through overdoses, many salarymen through liver disease and many others through drunk driving.

    The fact is even mochi is more dangerous than marijuana.

  • 1

    John Ray

    "Everybody knows, them dang hippies just want to commit recreation, and it's a SEEEEE-YUN!!" (That's a "sin", for those of you not familiar with Southern pronunciation.) "We ain't tryin to legislate morality, we're tryin to legislate against immorality, cain't you understand the difference? We wouldn't have all this prison overcrowding if them hippies would just do as they're told!" 大麻禁止法律はでたらめだ。。。

  • 0

    Kenichi Nalita

    Maido, here comes Kenichi Nalita ;) actually I didn't know this one here, so I might need to read this first...lol Life is tough, but l believe we can make "Change" happen.

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