Sumo: Russian wrestler expelled over marijuana by Patrice Novotny TOKYO, Aug 21, 2008 (AFP) – Japan’s sumo authority on Thursday expelled a Russian wrestler caught with marijuana, an unprecedented punishment which activists said highlighted the rigidity of the country’s drug laws. It was the latest in a raft of scandals for the 2,000-year-old sport, whose image was tainted last year when a teenage apprentice died after violent abuse by his stable.
The Japan Sumo Association held an emergency board meeting and decided to oust Soslan Gagloev, a 20-year-old who has risen quickly through the ranks under the ring name of Wakanoho. “He was arrested over a violation of the marijuana control law,” said Kitanoumi, executive director of the sumo authority. “The association dismissed him today. It was the most severe punishment ever handed down by the sumo association, which has never before dismissed a wrestler in active competition. The Russian, who has been a professional sumo wrestler since 2005, was arrested Monday for allegedly possessing a joint with 0.368 grams of marijuana inside. Police also confiscated a pipe for marijuana smoking. “This incident disturbed the public,” said the Russian wrestler’s stable master Magaki, sitting next to Kitanoumi at the press conference. “I apologise for my poor supervision.” Magaki offered his resignation as a board member, which was accepted at the emergency meeting, the association said. Gagloev had been promoted in July to maegashira, the highest sumo level below the main four competitive ranks. Russia is among a number of countries and US jurisdictions that have all but legalised marijuana in recent years by lightening punishments or allowing the use of the drug for medicinal purposes. Japan, along with most of East Asia, enforces strict laws banning both hard and soft drugs. Possession of any amount of marijuana in Japan carries a risk of up to five years in prison. Foreigners caught with marijuana risk expulsion, as happened in 1980 when Japan jailed former Beatle Paul McCartney for nine days for carrying weed in his suitcase. Activist Kazuhiko Sirasaka said that the wrestler’s arrest showed a hysterical attitude in Japan towards marijuana. “The amount found on Wakanoho was ridiculously small. How can you be arrested and prosecuted for that? It’s a nightmare,” said Sirasaka, head of the THC Japan association which lobbies on behalf of what it calls victims of drug legislation. “The government is only repeating the slogans of American authorities to ‘Just Say No,’” he said. “The penalties are only severe so as to spread the myth that cannabis is dangerous.” Asked about the reasons for Japan’s zero-tolerance policy on drugs, a health ministry spokesman said only: “It’s the law.” Japan closed a loophole in 2002 that allowed sales of hallucinogenic mushrooms, which were the country’s only legal drug. Despite the strict punishments, Japan has seen a rising number of drug convictions, although the number is still small by global standards. Police in the nation of 127 million people reported a record 3,282 drug violations in 2007. Two-thirds of the people who were arrested were in their 20s.