Cannabis in Japan

Fascinating article in The Japan Times by Jon Mitchell: Cannabis: the fabric of Japan

It’s about Junichi Takayasu – a man who has spent his life working to preserve knowledge of cannabis culture in Japan – a history which dates back to the Jomon Period (10,000-200 B.C.).

It was interesting (and saddening) to read about how that culture was changed after World War II, and the speculations about U.S. motivation.

Following the country’s defeat in 1945, however, the U.S. authorities occupying Japan brought with them American attitudes toward cannabis. Washington had effectively outlawed cannabis in the United States in 1937 and now it moved to ban it in Japan. In July 1948, with the nation still under U.S. occupation, it passed the Cannabis Control Act — the law that remains the basis of anti-cannabis policy in Japan today.

There are a number of different theories as to why the U.S. outlawed cannabis in Japan. Some believe it was based upon a genuine desire to protect Japanese people from the evils of narcotics, while others point out that the U.S. allowed the sale of over-the-counter amphetamines to continue until 1951. Several cannabis experts argue that the ban was instigated by U.S. petrochemical interests in a bid to shut down the Japanese cannabis fiber industry, opening the market to man-made materials such as polyester and nylon.

Takayasu locates the cannabis ban within the wider context of U.S. attempts to reduce the power of the Japanese military.

“In the same way that U.S. authorities discouraged kendo and judo, the 1948 Cannabis Control Act was a way to undermine militarism in Japan,” he says. “The wartime cannabis industry had been so dominated by the military that the Cannabis Control Act was designed to strip away its power.”

Yet another example of how the U.S. has exported its destructive drug war as a means of furthering foreign policy goals.

[Thanks, Daniel]
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22 Responses to Cannabis in Japan

  1. Pingback: Cannabis in Japan | Weed Minds

  2. Kind/correction says:

    Last sentence reads: “means of means of”

  3. Crut says:

    I’m an American by birth. Sometimes I’m ashamed by our history. Sometimes, I’m inspired.

    In my experience, also shared with the experience of hundreds of MILLIONS of others on this amazing, breathtaking, infuriating planet, the smoking of cannabis is a peaceful undertaking. The resulting (hopefully shared) intoxication is by and large a PEACEFUL endeavor. No other intoxication is more associated with peace than Cannabis.

    Those that would and have brought war upon PEACEFUL things deserve [insert any appropriate/inappropriate emotional response here]. I would personally rather wage peace upon those that would wage war, while respecting that others would take a harsher approach. Either way, the end of this war as we know it is nigh.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Dealing with the war on (some) drugs as an American definitely has advantages. On the other side of the planet there’s a little town in New South Wales, Australia called Nimbin. The town shares a border with Nightcap National Park. I know most here have heard of it as I understand that it’s a very cannabis friendly.

      Marijuana festival ends in 86 arrests for driving under influence of drugs Police target annual
      Mardi Grass festival in northern New South Wales, which aims to promote marijuana law reform

      The details aren’t particularly important. The salient item is that Australian police can demand an impaired driving test from anyone driving a motor vehicle. For any reason, no reason, at random or even just a whim. Then again we don’t have any ganja faeries.

      I once bought some forgotten gizmo or gadget possibly for yard work. The instructions had very obviously been written by someone who called Japanese his first language. The verbiage aside, fully half of the instructions were devoted to how to not disturb your neighbors. Life is very strange on that side of the world. I don’t even know how I would argue for cannabis law reform without a right to the expectation of privacy and/or equal protection of the law.

      • Pete says:

        I remember when I was in Australia years ago and was driving down a multi-lane highway, and there was a cop standing in the middle of the road, looking at cars and just pointing to cars to pull off for a mandatory breathalyzer (purely on whim). I was struck by the difference in legal rights. And also by the fact that it was 10:00 am on a Thursday.

        • Plant Down Babylon says:

          I lived there for a year in ’01-’02 and I can completely vouch for Nimbin in all it’s glory.

          The boys know what their doing and grow some heavenly stuff. Humboldt better watch it’s back.

          Pete, I was amazed at that random breathalyzer thing too. It seemed to be mostly early in the day as the Aussies LOVE to get completely hammered at night when it is more culturally acceptable.

          I think their threshold is .02bac. I believe it varies by province/territory.

        • Same/here says:

          Holland is no different; although I drive only about 2 hours a week, I get randomly breathalyzed about once a year, usually late afternoon. It’s happened twice while leaving the channel ferry.

      • Drew says:

        … devoted to how to not disturb your neighbors. Life is very strange on that side of the world.
        Crowded. VERY crowded. Fortunately they seem to give a darn about their neighbors. Houses with multiple families and sliding rice paper panels to keep things private. I recall reading about some hotels that were like bee hives with ~ 1.25m x 1.25m x 2m cells which people slept in. Evolution may have given Aussie animals a pouch, but it’s given the Japanese people a massive dose of golden rule mentality or hive mentality since so many of them live in such close quarters.

        After reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” I guess the good news is Japan is a much larger island than Easter Island.

  4. darkcycle says:

    O/T but worth sharing: a great story about our newest allies in the fight to legalize pot….seniors:

    • Servetus says:

      Not really OT. Once the majority of Japanese citizens know their current cannabis laws are the product of foreign devils — evil men such as Harry Anslinger; or they recognize the marijuana laws as having originated within strange Middle-Eastern and Western religions, it will be easier for the Japanese to throw off the alien yoke of drug oppression such that the most-honorable elderly of Japan can benefit from the life enhancing properties of marijuana when used as a geriatrics medicine.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Hey, let’s sponsor Senior Prom night at the old folks home and spike their cookies!
      Arizona has 1,531 patients age 71 or older on the State registry roll. So whole plant exo-cannabinoid medicine isn’t a totally foreign concept to older people.

      Now here’s something interesting: Arizona DHS has started keeping track of how much medicinal cannabis was purchased by each age group tracked by the DHS. Those 81 and older bought an average of 5.584 grams per transaction 12.831 grams per patient. The cohort between ages 18 and 30 bought an average of 3.777 grams per transaction and 47.448 grams per patient.

      Those are quarterly numbers so divide by 3 to get the average per patient monthly number. 15.816 grams per month per patient for the cohort that most people would intuitively guess includes the largest cohort of malingering patients. Heck, weren’t we thinking that Uruguay was being a bit stingy at 40 grams per month per person?

  5. DdC says:

    Cannabis in Japan Cannabis(Taima), Hemp(Asa)

    Japanese Symbols: 大麻. Kana: [たいま] Romaji
    (english pronunciation): taima

    Hempen culture in Japan

    Benefits of Marijuana: Acute radiation syndrome

  6. Servetus says:

    OT. In “Operation Gargoyle”, the torture of El Chapo Guzman’s trusted associates by Mexican Marines is alleged in obtaining information in the lead-up to Guzman’s arrest:

    [W]hen I raised the subject with a former D.E.A. agent who has spoken to Mexican counterparts involved in the operation, he had a different explanation. “The marines tortured these guys,” he told me, matter-of-factly. “They would never have given it up, if not for that.” The D.E.A. refused to comment on the torture allegation. However, two senior U.S. law-enforcement officials told me that, though they had no specific knowledge of the Mexican authorities using torture in the operation, they “wouldn’t be surprised.”

    A 2011 Human Rights Watch report found that members of Mexico’s security services “systematically use torture to obtain forced confessions and information about criminal groups,” and documented the use of such techniques as “beatings, asphyxiation with plastic bags, water boarding, electric shocks, sexual torture, and death threats.” The broad employment of brutal techniques, coupled with the high profile and the urgency of the hunt for Guzmán, makes it seem all the more plausible that Mexican authorities used unsavory, and illegal, means to pursue him.

    This means the DEA knowingly does business with torturers, making the United States an accomplice to the crime of torture in Mexico’s drug cases.

  7. N.T. Greene says:

    As someone who has studied Japanese history… I am surprised I did not hear of this before. I’m not at all surprised however — some of my favorite figures in Japanese history are strange folk indeed; Ikkyu comes to mind as someone somewhat related to this, as he was known to drink to excess and visit prostitutes and the like.

    Oh, and he is one of the most important figures in this history of Zen.

    “Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
    And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
    Before doing that, though, they should learn
    How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain,
    the snow and moon.”

    • allan says:

      and I love Japanese film (that college influence again), from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai to Samurai Detective to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away…

      I tend to think that marijuana was far less the issue than denying access to the versatility of industrial hemp. The Army had just studied marijuana in the ’30s in Panama and discovered during WWII our need for domestic industrial hemp.

  8. allan says:

    here’s a fun one:

    and I won’t give away whose site it is, but I will say it’s FL based, no comments, no “about” page… but it does have PSAs fer yer edification!

  9. Jean Valjean says:

    Michele Leonhart in another spat with the Obama administration, this time over sentencing reform:

    I’m beginning to wonder if she isn’t deliberately trying to get fired by Obama and Holder so that she can run for elected office as a pro-drug war republican.
    This quote reveals her as the sado-moralist she is:

    “I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work for DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations,” Leonhart said. “We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences are going to the … level of violator we are going after.”

    • Servetus says:

      I know from my experience … that the mandatory minimums are an important tool in developing cooperators,” [FBI Director Jim] Comey said.

      And inquisitors and witch hunters knew from their experiences that torture was an important tool in developing cooperators.

  10. SJ says:

    Great article! Thought you might enjoy this great new piece by Vice on medical cannabis in Japan:

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