The Freedom of Information Act in Japan: Regarding Cannabis

by Kazuhiko Shirasaka and Shigeru Aso

On November, 2012, the voters of Colorado State and Washington State voted on a new initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana. This state level decision contradicts the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, and disputes the International Narcotics Control Board located in Vienna and the World Health Organizations’s international treaties and agreements. Such international organizations have been displaying concern regarding this issue, yet in Europe and many other parts of the world, many countries have laws that prohibit cannabis but actually do not enforce them strictly for small amount possessions.

So the United States legalized recreational cannabis in two states, and regarding medical marijuana, 18 states and Washington D.C. already legalized this, and have achieved goals such as cutting spending on prosecuting and persecuting those who may use, possess, or cultivate marijuana. Taxation perhaps is another issue, for each state has its own laws, but it is clear that  taxation of cannabis will bring a tremendous amount of income for these states that have moved forward.

During the first Abe administration, the Prime Minister was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis(UC), a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease(IBD), which is considered an intractable disease by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. There are reports that conclude that many of those who suffer from UC, are also cannabis users, to alleviate horrifying symptoms.

・Cannabis use amongst patients with inflammatory bowel disease.[PubMed]

In Japan, due to the Cannabis Control Act Part 4, medicinal use of cannabis is prohibited. We cannot even perform clinical studies, for this is also prohibited. WE CANNOT EVEN STUDY CANNABIS, YET FOR SOME ODD REASON, THE MEDIA AND GOVERNMENT CLAIMS THAT THE ONLY ANSWER TO CANNABIS, IS TO SIMPLY SAY ‘ABSOLUTELY NO!’.

Parachuting ex-bureaucrats do not even want to answer questions regarding this issue. When we requested evidence that cannabis caused violence in human behavior, (propaganda claimed by the parachuting organizations), the Executive Director simply replied ‘I don’t want to!’.

Interview with Drug Abuse Prevention Center

Regarding the medicinal use of marijuana, the National Cancer Institute(NCI) of the United States issued a report called “Cannabis and Cannabinoids” on this matter, and in its overview stated as follows:

This complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary provides an overview of the use of Cannabis and its components as a treatment for people with cancer -related symptoms caused by the disease itself or its treatment.

This summary contains the following key information:

• Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

  • By federal law, the possession of Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is illegal in the United States.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved Cannabis as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.
  • Chemical components of Cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors found throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.
  • Commercially available cannabinoids, such as dronabinol and nabilone, are approved for the treatment of cancer-related side effects.
  • Cannabinoids may have benefits in the treatment of cancer-related side effects.

National Cancer Institute Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQR)

So, it was our intention to find out how much information does the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare which oversees cannabis laws, have so far obtained about international use of medical cannabis.

In February 2013, we utilized the Freedom of Information Act equivalent in Japan, to obtain all information the Ministry held on foreign medical marijuana policies. We soon found out that they have ABSOLUTELY NO! information regarding this matter. THE F.O.I.A. response was as follows:

1 The name of the document which was rejected to access.

“All information held by the Ministry regarding Medical Marijuana use in foreign countries”

2 The reason for rejecting the request.

“No documents are available regarding this issue”

For a victimless crime which does not hurt or manipulate anybody, the Japanese society has harsh punishments ready for those who possess personal amounts of cannabis. Their jobs and daily life are taken from them, and some are expelled from schools. The media sensationalizes such cases while identifying names, furthering the social stigma in this matter. They are arrested and put in strict jails, as well. Haven’t we lost balance between our actions and it’s consequential punishment? What are the reason for such policies in Japan? Aren’t we wasting tax payer’s money?

Not limited to ulcerative colitis, cannabis has been known to help those alleviate pain from cancer, enhance appetite, and assist those who cannot  sleep. It is a shame that the Japanese are not entitled to medical marijuana, just like many of the other countries throughout the world. This Cannabis Control Act historically has no reasonable explanation for existence, except for the fact that it was imposed by the occupying forces of the US shortly after WWII. This medication has hardly any known side-effects, and is known to be safe. This should be an available choice for the people of Japan as well as the rest of the world.

We would like to keep asking questions to the Japanese Society. So what do you think?


  1. Stoney says:

    I am currently spending time in Japan, here until March of 2014. I work for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) in the United States. I would love to get together with you and become a part of the movement here in Japan. Or at the very least maybe interview you to take some knowledge back with me. Please shoot me an email so we can talk!

  2. Kurt Howell says:

    Watched the Vice video and I’m glad someone is promoting cannabis in Japan. Most Japanese I meet do not know asa is cannabis, so it is good that someone is educating people. I would like to communicate with someone in your organization about medical marijuana. Please feel free to contact me.

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