The Japanese Pot Scene

by Shigeru Aso


Due to it’s strict laws against cannabis in general, the Japanese pot scene is deeply underground.  However, it is estimated that over one million Japanese have tried cannabis in one form or another. This is due to excessive traveling done by the Japanese throughout the world, experiencing cannabis for the first time and bringing home the practice of smoking weed. The huge reggae and hip-hop scene in Japan contributes greatly to this culture as well.

At one point and time, cannabis use in Japan was limited to musicians and celebrities occasionally getting caught for pot and then lynched by the media. Sort of like what happened to Paul McCartney in 1980, except he was simply deported. Today, this scene is changing dramatically.

About three thousand people are busted every year for possession, cultivation and intent to sell charges regarding cannabis.  Simple possession alone is punishable of up to 5 years in prison, though fisrt time offenders (without intent to sell) are most likely to receive a suspended sentence. However, if you are caught again during the suspended sentence, your time 
for the first case is tacked on with the new charge, so you end up with an asshole full of time in an ultra-strict penitentiary. In japan, the conviction rate after indictment is 99%. Amnesty International, World Health Organization  and many other internationl groups have repeatedly warned Japan about this outrageous and quite unbelievable conviction rate, from the perspective of human rights. In Japan, due process rights are clearly violated. Once arrested, you may be held for ten days in a jail located in the nearest precinct, with no formal charges and you may be subject to severe interrogations. Then they could delightfully add on another ten days, if  the prosecutor agrees (which they usually do).  Most people break down during such harsh interrogation sessions and end up signing an affidavit against their best interest. Due to new laws, today a detainee may get one free 15 minute visit from an attorney during this initial incarceration. This is limited to minimal legal advice and notification to friends and family. It is also not uncommon that you are refused visitors for pot charges, because you are considered a risk to destroy evidence.  Bail is always atleast a million yen, which is 
about 10000 US dollars,  cash only, and sometimes even 2.5 million  yen being roughly 25000 USD. This money comes back if you show up at all your court dates. However, don’t count on being bailed out, because this is not always allowed either.  Sometimes they refuse bail because one may be considered ‘habitual’ or perhaps because one may try to flee. 
However, eventhough such strict penalties await those who get caught, pot is bigger than ever since this crop was made illegal. Until the end of war, and the General Head Quarters (GHQ - the Japanese Occupying Forces by the United States) lead by Douglas McArther decided that hemp should be illegal, pot grew everywhere in Japan.  Hemp was warshipped in the animistic 
sense, and grew alongside rice patties and blended in with the local nature. Seeds that date back 10000 years ago have been discovered from the early JOMON period, making Japan perhaps the oldest nation to use cannabis as a crop, and most certainly in shamanistic rituals.

The Japanese public, especially the youth are becoming more and more educated about pot, and there are many who grow indoor hydroponics and practice outdoor guerilla growing. Many import pot from southeast Asian countries, and some travel north to Hokkaido to collect the Japanese ’home-grown’ which grows wildly.  Some purchase pot from the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. But for the most part, the scene is very underground where clones are traded among friends, and seeds are bought online. The internet also played a big role in the booming of marijuana in Japan. Readily available non-biased information was now here for everyone. Growing methods are all over the internet as well for anyone brave enough to try it.

The Japanese activism in cannabis culture is a complicated issue. The reason being, that their are no channels to go through to change laws by the people unless you are a member of the parliament. Lobbying such parliamental executives is probably the most important aspect of this battle. The courts have proved themselves to be non-functional already. The tragedy 
is that the only way to fight such unconstitutional law is to get caught, and then claim that the Cannabis Control Act is unconstitutional. The courts have already admitted that the Ministry of Health and Labor does not hold any evidence that pot is a dangerous drug. However the courts always say ‘it is public knowledge that cannabis is dangerous’.

It is still taboo in Japan to even talk about pot openly. If you do, you will most liekly be labeled a dangerous person. Hoever, it is quite ironic that most Japanese people don’t even know that cannabis plays a big role in Japanese history. Most poeple don’t know the plant they walk by everyday on the way to school is pot. Most poeple don’t know that hemp and marijuana is the same thing.

Medical marijuana is no exception. Very few recognize the unbelievable aspect of cannabis to heal, eventhough the Japanese have a rich history in using this plant as medicine to cure constipation, asthma, menstral pain, and so on. The Japanese Medical Association talks about cannabis the same way they talk about amphetamines. The truth is, the Japanese have used this 
plant for rope, clothing, spiritual enhancement, healing and for Shinto rituals for thousands of years. Our rich cultutaral heritages such as Sumo, Shrines, Animism, Shintoism would not exist if it wasn’t for cannabis. This all changed when we lost the war, and the Americans put a ban on cannabis. Some say it was to protect the chemical fiber industry, some say that the Americans saw it as being an ‘immoral plant’.

At any rate, the Japanese are toking up, legal or not. In clubs, in street corners and in the safety of their own home, pot smokers unite. The youth are very open to the usage of cannabis, and it is even ‘fashionable’. The restoration of Japanese pride will only come with the restoration of cannabis in our culture. 

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