japan hemp

Japan hemp

At the time there wasn’t any talk about a “marijuana problem” in Japan. The law seems to have been passed only because a few years earlier a similar law had been passed in the USA. Far more harmful and then already widely abused amphetamines remained legal because at the time they were legal in the USA too.

The cannabis law as originally drafted by the occupation government would have prohibited all hemp cultivation. Fortunately, the Japanese side was able to convince the military government to adopt a permit system instead, where license holders were able to grow and possess cannabis, so that hemp cultivation which then employed thousands of farmers could continue legally to this day.

“The occupation authorities issued several orders relating to narcotics. [. ] In 1947, the Cannabis Control Regulations were also applied, according to the orders on cannabis issued by the occupation authorities, and the Cannabis Control Law was put into effect in 1948.”

After Japan regained its sovereignity the new hemp law was widely ignored for about two decades as no one understood why it had been passed at all.

Then, in the late 1960s, when the USA was fighting a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam, there was growing opposition to this war in Japan, which was and still is a major base for American involvement in Asia. Students and other members of the “counter culture” were found to be growing hemp and the until then forgotten law was suddenly applied to prosecute them. They couldn’t be arrested for their political views, as they would have been during the military dictatorship of the 1940s, but their use of a forbidden plant made it possible to target them anyway.


Thirty years later Japan still pursues an intolerant policy on marijuana. Remember Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and Nagano olympic gold medal winner Ross Rebagliati? Anyone caught with marijuana in Japan is in big trouble. Marijuana use is viewed almost as bad as heroin use is in many western countries. Anyone caught with any amount of marijuana will be arrested. Suspects can be detained for several weeks before they need to be charged with a crime. Evidence obtained through illegal means (such as illegal searches) is routinely admitted in court. Some 98% of all people charged with a crime are convicted by Japanese courts.

People go to jail for possessing less than one gram of hemp and they face many social penalties too (loss of job, expulsion from schools, etc.). Theoretically you can go to prison for five years for a single joint. Larger quantities, cultivation or smuggling will lead to prison sentences of up to seven years. Smugglers caught with a few hundred grams to a few kg of cannabis are routinely sent to prison for 3-4 years. Discipline in Japanese prisons is extremely strict and conditions are harsh.

All foreigners caught with marijuana will be deported after having served their sentence, with a life-time ban on returning into the country (even someone as famous as Paul McCartney wasn’t re-admitted until 11 years later). Japan has a general policy of refusing entry to all foreigners with a criminal record on controlled substance violations.

Hard drugs and decriminalisation

The strict intolerance against hemp is a major reason why so many young people in Japan sniff harmful solvents or take other chemical hard drugs such as amphetamines. There are few other countries worldwide where solvent abuse and use of “speed” are so common: The National Police Agency estimated in January 1999 that there might be over 2 million amphetamine users in Japan, about as large a percentage of the population as users of cocaine and crack in the USA. In 1999 about 1,973 kg of amphetamines with a street value of around ¥ 100 billion (US$1 billion) were intercepted by Japanese customs. If this was about 10% of the shipments then organised crime made some ¥ 1 trillion (US$10 billion) from selling amphetamines.

If Japan wants to stop driving its youth into the hands of hard drug dealing gangsters it should consider decriminalising cannabis possession for personal use. Many experts argue that markets for soft and hard drugs should be separated. The Netherlands decriminalised small scale cannabis possession 28 years ago and the country now has not only far fewer problems with hard drugs than the USA which have declared a “War on Drugs” but also a lower rate of cannabis use (see NL vs. USA).

International Drug Treaties do not mandate that signatory countries prohibit use or possession of cannabis, nor do they require that people who use use or possess cannabis be imprisoned. They leave that choice up to the lawmakers of each signatory country (see Article 2 and 28 of the 1961 Single Convention).

Under the Japanese Cannabis Control Act there is no minimum sentence for cannabis possession — cannabis use itself is not specifically prohibited. Japan would not even have to change its law on cannabis to decriminalize users. Instead of sending users to prison the police or courts could issue small fines, like a parking ticket. Police officers could be given the discretion to decide for themselves whether or not to pursue small scale possession or cultivation cases, provided certain conditions are met (age limits, no use in public, no driving while under the influence, etc.). If they consider that under the circumstances it would not be the most productive use of their time they should not be forced to make arrests.

As long as fines can be imposed or cannabis sales are taxed the government would still express its disapproval of cannabis use. Since it is neither physically addictive nor particularly harmful, most users never have a problem from marijuana use itself. Only a small minority of users develops a psychological depedendency (about 2% according to a German study) and they are better off if they can seek professional help without fear of getting arrested. Decriminalisation would avoid giving often young users a criminal record, which is likely to be the major harm associated with cannabis. It would also free up valuable resources for fighting gangsters and violent crime.

There are signs that the police is gradually becoming aware that marijuana is not like hard drugs and that its users are not dangerous criminals. However, this process will only progress as police, lawmakers and the general public are educated about the facts. One possible outcome may be an informal system of tolerance where police turn a blind eye to cannabis violations as they tend to do with cash payouts out by pachinko gambling parlors or “delivery health” (call girl) services, which are both illegal but ignored.

Hemp cultivation license

Cultivation of hemp is subject to a license available from the local prefecture. Not many of these licenses have been issued in recent years. There are two kinds of licenses. The one that is easier to obtain entitles the holder to cultivate only low-THC hemp for non-drug use. The most common seed strain is “Tochigishiro”, an extra low-THC strain bred by the “Agricultural Experimental Station” in Tochigi prefecture, 50 km north of Tokyo.

Many other countries (for example, Germany, Austria and Switzerland) do not require any licenses for farmers to grow hemp for non-drug purposes. Current Japanese industrial hemp regulations far exceed what is required by United Nations drug treaties that Japan has ratified. These treaties specifically exempt hemp grown for non-drug use from any required controls:

1. If a Party permits the cultivation of the cannabis plant for the production of cannabis or cannabis resin, it shall apply thereto the system of controls as provided in article 23 respecting the control of the opium poppy.

2. This Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes.

Another, more difficult to obtain license permits cultivation of other strains and is usually only granted for medical or other research.

The law on hemp

Samurai Weaponry

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the daimyo, the warlords of feudal Japan encouraged the vassals to grow hemp.

Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum. Please contact us for licensing options.

Hemp in Japan

The Samurai

In 1980, Paul McCartney was arrested at Tokyo airport after a small bag of weed was found in his luggage. After having spent nine nights in a cell, the ex-Beatle was deported. A planned tour of Japan was cancelled and Paul McCartney was not allowed to visit the land of the rising sun for the next seven years. Japan still has a very strict cannabis control law. You can be put behind bars for five years just for having one single joint.


This was not always the case. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the daimyo, the warlords of feudal Japan encouraged the vassals to grow cannabis. They could sell the plant for a high price in the cities where hemp fibre was used to make refined garments. The weaponry of the Samurai (literally he who serves) was also partly made from hemp.

An important part of the Samurai weaponry was the iron helmet (kabuto) that was fitted inside with hemp covered in silk. The shoulder, sleeve and thigh protectors of the Japanese warriors were also made from hemp in combination with silk and deer leather on which iron plates were stitched with hemp twine. A remarkable detail is that the hemp was impregnated with persimmon juice to make it waterproof. The military equipment that can be seen in our museum in Barcelona is almost certainly from the late Edo Period (nineteenth century).

Modern hemp cultivation in Japan

The hemp cultivation disappeared completely in Japan with the arrival of cotton, the death in 1877 of the last real samurai (Takamori Saigo) and the general cannabis ban in 1948 during the American occupation. That is until Emperor Hirohito died in 1989 and his son Akihito was crowned during a special ceremony in which he had to wear a traditional gown made from hemp. A number of farmers in the region Shikoku gave the new emperor a present of illegally planted hemp with which to make the garment. In gratitude they received a licence to grow hemp on a small scale for the making of rope, paper and the clothing for the imperial family.

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Samurai Weaponry In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the daimyo, the warlords of feudal Japan encouraged the vassals to grow hemp. Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum. Please contact us for