Japan Health Ministry Panel Recommends Allowing Cannabis Medicines

Japan’s government is debating legalizing cannabis medicines, a historic change in Japan’s zero-tolerance drug laws.

Full story after the jump.

A health ministry panel in Japan on Thursday said that the nation should allow the use of cannabis-based medicines, while also suggesting strengthening laws on cannabis use, Reuters reports. While the recommendation could lead to a historic change in Japan’s zero-tolerance drug laws, non-medical cannabis use would remain outlawed.

Japan’s government has been debating legalizing cannabis medicines, the report says, and the panel said the government should pass those reforms. Currently, the epilepsy drug Epidiolex is undergoing clinical trials in Japan but the country’s cannabis laws would need to be revised in order to allow patients to access the drug. 

According to a National Police Agency report, Japan saw a record 5,482 people involved in cannabis-related criminal cases in 2021, an increase of 448 from the previous year, with 70% of offenders in their 20s or younger. Overall, 5.6 per 100,000 people were involved in cannabis-related offenses in 2021, which is nearly double the 3.0 rate in 2017. 

Japan’s Cannabis Control Act criminalizes the import, export, or cultivation of cannabis and simple possession carries a sentence of up to five years, according to the law firm Ohara & Furukawa. Possession with the intent to profit is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and/or up to a 2,000,000 yen fine. Growing, importing, or exporting cannabis in Japan can be punished with up to seven years in prison, and engaging in any of those acts with the intent to profit carries a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment. 

In a survey of 829 drug offenders by the National Police Agency, more than 70% said they did not believe cannabis is harmful. 

The health ministry report noted that just 1.4% of people in Japan had ever consumed cannabis, compared to 20-40% in Western countries. 

The recommendation by the panel was based on meeting medical needs and harmonizing Japan with international standards, the report says. The reforms would apply to cannabis products whose safety and efficacy were confirmed under laws governing pharmaceuticals and medical devices. 

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