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Weed in Japan: Cannabis Legal Status Guide

“Is weed legal in Japan?” is a common question of cannabis lovers while travelling there. We've got you covered!
13 October 2022
8 min read
Weed in Japan: Cannabis Legal Status Guide

Contents:
  • 1. Cannabis laws in japan
  • 1. a. Possession
  • 1. b. Sale
  • 1. c. Growing
  • 2. Is cbd legal in japan?
  • 3. Is it legal to send cannabis seeds to japan?
  • 4. Medicinal cannabis in japan
  • 5. Industrial hemp in japan
  • 6. History and politics
  • 6. a. Politics
  • 7. Helpful hints

1. Cannabis Laws in Japan

A remarkable island of 125 million people located in the northwest Pacific Ocean, Japan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world today. Known as the Island of the Rising Sun and famed for its unique cuisine, culture, and technology, Japan and its people once had a long and storied history of cannabis use up until the mid-20th century.

Today, attitudes have changed somewhat, and in this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at Japanese weed laws and the country’s history with the plant while answering your most asked questions. Let’s kick things off with an easy question - is marijuana legal in Japan?

Possession

Unfortunately, cannabis is forbidden in all forms in Japan, with no provisions in place for either recreational or medicinal access. Possessing and using weed in Japan (for personal use) are expressly forbidden, and anyone caught with it may be sentenced to up to five years in prison.  Indeed, Japanese authorities are particularly strict regarding cannabis, with possession of a solitary joint enough to land a stint behind bars. Further punishments for the possession of use in cannabis include:

 

  • Being removed from your position of employment
  • Expulsion from colleges and universities
  • Deportation and permanently banned from the country (for foreign resident offenders)

 

Most famously, legendary Beatle Paul McCartney would fall foul of Japanese weed laws, having been arrested in Japan in 1980 for possession of cannabis. McCartney arrived in Tokyo with 219 grams of marijuana in his suitcase and, despite his star status, would be banned from the country for over a decade. While cannabis had previously been legal in the country until 1948, The Cannabis Control Act was first introduced in Japan during the occupation of the US following the end of the Second World War.

While the country had no specific issue with cannabis abuse or misuse, the plant was banned in 1948 despite being considered a vital crop by its people. Cannabis or hemp was used both for practical and spiritual activities, but US officials took the decision to ban cannabis, although hemp was given an exemption due to its importance to Japanese farmers of the era. 

Sale

As you might expect, the sale of cannabis in Japan carries with it lengthy prison sentences of up to seven years.  According to Japanese Cannabis Control Law, the offense also carries with it a fine of up to 2,000,000 yen (around $15000), depending on the quantity of cannabis seized.

 

Weed in japan: sale

Sale of cannabis in Japan can result in a prison sentence of up to 7 years.
 

The importing or exporting of marijuana either into or outside of Japan also carries a prison sentence of up to seven years with an accompanying fine of up to 3,000,000 yen.

Growing

Strike three - You guessed it - Cannabis cannot be cultivated legally in Japan, and anyone found to have grown the plant is liable to a prison sentence and fine like those described earlier. While Japan currently lives under tight and strictly controlled cannabis prohibition laws, the country was once one of the great cultivators of the plant. Prior to 1950, there were said to have been over 25,000 cannabis and hemp farms in operation across the country. Despite its illegality, Japanese farmers were allowed to continue to produce the plant for a brief period following cannabis prohibition. However, the increased popularity of artificial fabrics and the increased costs of cannabis cultivation licenses ensured the industry’s rapid decline.

2. Is CBD legal in Japan?

While weed laws in Japan can be considered some of the harshest in the developed world, perhaps surprisingly, CBD is legal in Japan following the passing of legislation in 2016. The law permits both the use and sale of CBD on Japanese shores.  However, all CBD products must be produced using only the stem and seeds of the hemp plant and must not contain any THC. Likewise, for those of you traveling to Japan, you may enter the country with CBD products, but they must contain zero THC.

Given that prison sentences can be handed out for those who enter Japan with cannabis or products containing THC, it is vital to be sure that whatever you bring into the country is entirely free from THC. This means that no traces of THC were found in third-party lab tests of the CBD products. Therefore, whatever CBD product you use, make sure that you double-check the company’s independent lab report results for your chosen product. When in Japan, CBD products, including oils, drinks, and edible gummies, are readily available and can be found in a variety of stores, including specialty shops to beauty bars.

3.  Is it Legal to Send Cannabis Seeds to Japan?

Cannabis seeds fall into something of a grey area under Japanese weed laws. While The Cannabis Control Act does list cannabis seeds as an illegal substance, the law is not particularly clear on the issue.

 

Weed in japan: is it legal to buy seeds?

Seeds may only be kept for novelty purposes.
 

Like in other countries where it is illegal to cultivate cannabis, seeds may be kept for novelty purposesHowever, the seed must be sterilized, and while they are technically legal to mail into the country, it would seem like something of a pointless and potentially risky endeavor, given the country’s strict laws that surround cannabis usage and cultivation. 

4. Medicinal Cannabis in Japan

Medicinal cannabis remains illegal in Japan; however, that could be about to change in the coming months. The Japanese Ministry recommended in August 2021 that the government follow the example of other countries by allowing patients to use medicinal cannabis. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare panel met earlier this year to begin discussions regarding the legalizing of medicinal cannabis to benefit patients who have refractory epilepsy. The Ministry recommended permitting clinical trials of cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals such as Epidiolex but did not specifically recommend legalizing medicinal cannabis. However, despite a potential loosening of laws for the medicinal application of cannabis in Japan, the Ministry is also seeking to criminalize recreational use further with a tightening of the current laws. The phrase, one step forward, two steps back comes to mind. 

5. Industrial hemp in Japan

Prior to the US occupation of Japan in the late 1940s, the country boasted a thriving hemp industry. While exemptions were made for its continued production following the ban on cannabis in 1948, the industry has been significantly reduced over the intervening years. Still, had it not been for the Emperor’s intervention in securing hemp permits for farmers, the hemp industry would have been entirely eliminated. Today, Hemp fibers and non-germinated hemp seeds are used to produce a variety of Japanese commercial products and religious items, including shichimi spices, traditional Shimenawa straw festoons, and Noren curtain room dividers. However, most of these products are usually imported from overseas.

 

Weed in japan: industrial hemp

Hemp cultivation is legal in Japan as long as you have acquired a permit or license.
 

At present, hemp can be cultivated in Japan; however, a permit is required and, once granted, is monitored under a strictly regulated licensing system. It is thought that there are only about 20 farmers licensed to produce the crop in Japan., mostly for shrines, where it is burned in purification rituals or used to make ceremonial knots. The vast majority of these farms can be found in Tochigi Prefecture - a region that reportedly grows around 90% of Japan’s commercial hemp. However, the farms are small in scope and rarely exceed 10 hectares in size.

Under the conditions of the license, Japanese hemp cultivators are required to grow Tochigishiro - a low THC strain that offers no psychoactive effects. The seeds for growing this type of hemp are distributed to farmers by the Japanese government. Given the current growth in the hemp industry, local farmers have expressed their frustrations at the limitations on production. However, considering the country’s legalization of CBD in 2016, the Japanese government may well re-examine existing regulations that currently prevent mass-scale operations.

6. History and Politics

Cannabis and hemp have a long and deep history of use in Japan that dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, with some of the earliest evidence suggesting cannabis was first used during the Jomon Period (somewhere between 10,000 BCE to 300 BCE). Through archaeological research, it has been revealed that cannabis fibers and seeds were used to make a variety of everyday items, including clothes, bowstrings, and fishing lines. Used throughout Japanese history, the plant is even mentioned in a famous Japanese book of poetry that dates all the way back to the eighth century. 

Indeed, cannabis also played a role in Shintoism - Japan’s indigenous religion, with the burning of the plant believed to remove negative spirits from the air. However, despite centuries of use in the country, the 1948 law that banned cannabis in Japan would change both its legal status and its perception amongst the general public. While once lauded for its spiritual and medicinal value, a half-century of stigma and misinformation would ensure the decline in cannabis’s reputation within the country.

Politics

While the Japanese government has indicated a willingness to consider the potential of cannabis as a medicinal treatment, their attitudes towards recreational use are very much heading in an opposing direction. Indeed, the recent crackdown on marijuana has raised concerns about government overreach. The authorities in Tokyo detained two people for almost three weeks in September 2020 after they had posted on social media about their experience with cannabis while encouraging others to try it. In addition, the Japanese consulate urged Japanese tourists in the US to avoid using recreational cannabis when visiting states and provinces where the plant has been legalized. The warnings came with the threat of potential legal consequences upon their return to Japan.

 

Weed in japan: politics

The Japanese consulate advised tourists against recreational cannabis when visiting the US.
 

Unfortunately, the Japanese public is largely in agreement with their government, with many holding the outdated belief that the “drug” is dangerous, socially unacceptable, and with little or no medical value. This is reflected in a survey that revealed less than 2% of the country has previously consumed cannabis. By comparison, over 50% of the US population are said to have tried marijuana at one point in their life. In fact, of forty-seven countries analyzed over the past decade,  Japan had the second lowest percentage of their population to have consumed marijuana in their lifetime. China, with just 0.3%, was the only country to have a lower proportion of those to try cannabis at least once. As a result of this indifference, there is little expectation that cannabis will be legalized either in the near or distant future.

 

Adult Lifetime Cannabis Use by Country
CountryPercentage of the population to try CannabisCountryPercentage of the population to try Cannabis
United States51.6%Chile31.5%
Canada44.5%France30.6%
New Zealand41.9%Wales29.8%
Denmark36.5%Italy29.3%
Australia33.5%Japan1.9%

 

Despite the legality of CBD, Japanese authorities have ensured to carefully market CBD products, removing any images of marijuana leaves with many of the Japanese public left relatively unaware as to where CBD actually comes from. At any rate, given the continued dogma regarding the potential dangers of cannabis by the Japanese government, it seems unlikely that Tokyo could ever become an Amsterdam of the East and the continued prohibitions pertaining to its recreational use seem likely to continue for years to come.

7. Helpful Hints

While one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, Japan has a long way to go when it comes to cannabis laws. While medicinal cannabis could become a part of the country's long-term future, conversely, recreational laws are being tightened. A land of spectacular cuisine, architecture, and culture, Japan is the eleventh most visited country in the world. However, cannabis remains very much off the menu for both residents and tourists alike. Given the stiff penalties involved for its use, we recommend sticking to the sushi and sake and saving the spliffs for safer situations. 

If you want to learn more about cannabis laws from around the globe, check out our in-depth Fast Buds blog section, where you’ll find all the latest cannabis news, grow tips, and much more.

13 October 2022