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Japan

Japan reports sharp increase in marijuana arrests, triggering concerns for drug issues seen in the West

There was an almost 20 per cent increase between 2016 and 2017, as more youth say they tried it out of curiosity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 4:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 10:09pm

Japan has seen a sharp increase in marijuana possession arrests, especially among teenagers and people in their 20s, prompting warnings of drug-related issues typically associated with the more tolerant West.

But the number remains relatively low for a country of more than 127 million people.

National Police Agency figures show 3,008 people were arrested on marijuana changes in 2017, up almost 20 per cent from 2,536 cases in 2016. The spike marks a new record for the largely drug-intolerant country and comes as arrests for hallucinogenic substances are declining – apparently due to a police crackdown on “dangerous drugs”.

Many Japanese remain vehemently opposed to any move that accepts marijuana like countries such as Holland and an increasing number of US states.

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“We do not want a situation like in Western nations with widespread use of drugs, which lead to crimes, gangs and social problems,” said a poster named Ganbare Japan on the Japan Today news website. “[The] USA legalised marijuana but still has extremely high crime rates.” 

The increase in marijuana arrests was most pronounced among younger Japanese, with arrests of people between the ages of 14 and 19 showing a five-fold increase from 0.8 per 100,000 people to 4.1 per 100,000 people between 2014 and 2017, police said. The rate among people in their 20s almost doubled, from 4.8 per 100,000 people to 9.4. 

“Compared to other countries, these figures are quite low but Japan has a very anti-drug culture, so any increase is a big deal,” said Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

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“When I was a child there were adverts on television that said ‘quit drugs or quit life’ so we have always been taught that all drugs are bad,” he said. “Also, we have not been exposed to the drug culture that you see in other countries, like Holland.”

A separate study has shown more than 66 per cent of young people say they began using marijuana out of curiosity, and 80 per cent of people under the age of 20 said they had been offered the drug. Meanwhile, an increasing number of youth perceive hallucinogenic drugs as “dangerous”.

“It is not clear why there has been an increase in marijuana use among young people, but I would suggest that it is linked to stress and concerns over jobs and money, while there is also an element of the drug being fashionable in some circles,” Watanabe said.

There is “absolutely no likelihood” of Japan legalising marijuana, as has been happening in a number of US states recently, he added.