Japan Government Opens Public Comment Period for Cannabis Reform

Over the next few weeks, public comments will be submitted regarding the future of Japan’s cannabis regulatory framework.

The Japanese government announced on May 30 that it would officially begin accepting public comments about its cannabis reform bill. One of the proposed measures would potentially loosen restrictions for the use of processing CBD in food products.

In February, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) published a proposal hinting changes to the amount of THC allowed in some products. “In order to prevent the occurrence of health and hygiene hazards, a maximum residue limit for THC remaining in trace amounts in cannabis grass-derived products shall be established,” MHLW said.

AstraSana Holding AG managing director Yves Antoniazzi told Business of Cannabis that the company is in a beneficial position to help the CBD market expand in Japan. “We have been waiting a long time for this,” Antoniazzi said. “It is a huge milestone for the global cannabis industry. Japan is the first country to approve CBD in food, paving the way for corporate companies to list CBD products in retail chains.”

The public comment period will begin now and last through mid to late June.

The Japanese Ministry of Health began discussing medical cannabis legalization back in May 2022. In October 2023, the Japanese government amended its decades-old Cannabis Control Law. Later in November 2023, Japan’s lower House also passed the bill to move it forward, followed by the House of Councilors passing a revision to the law in December 2023. The revision included lifting a ban on cannabis-based pharmaceutical products and also reclassified cannabis under the country’s Narcotics Control Law.

However, it also introduced revised laws regarding illegal use and stated that someone in violation of the law could serve up to seven years in prison. Prior to the reformed law, Japan only punished violations for import, export, cultivating, and possession.

A recent report published by Euromonitor in April projects that Japan is poised to experience rapid growth between now and 2028. “Euromonitor International’s latest research in 2023 reveals a staggering growth in the Japan’s cannabis market over the past four years, expanding approximately sixfold from JPY $4 billion (USD $26.3 million) in 2019 to JPY24 billion (USD $173.8 million) in 2023,” the report stated. “This surge is attributed to the rising demand for products offering relaxation, sleep improvement, and stress relief.”

The report explained that previously, Japan hasn’t been a target for cannabis market growth “due to legal uncertainty.” However after the Cannabis Control Law was amended in 2023, it opened up many unique opportunities. “This amendment is expected to significantly change the potential and accelerate the use of cannabidiol (CBD) in diverse fields, including medicine, health, beauty, beverages and edibles in Japan,” the authors wrote. Euromonitor estimated that 0.12% of Japanese people consume cannabis illegally at least once per year, which has led to an increase in both illegal cultivation and processing.

According to Kyodo News in March, 6,482 people were being investigated for involvement in cannabis-related criminal cases in 2023. Numbers from 2022 showed that 5,702 people were involved in the same activity. The National Police Agency noted that this most recent data shows that the number of cannabis-related cases has now surpassed the number of cases involving stimulant drugs for the first time since 1958.

A majority of this illegal activity is centered around an increase in youth involvement, with 3,545 in their 20s and 1,222 younger than 20. Data from 2019 showed that only 609 people under 20 were involved in cannabis-related convictions. The National Police Agency cited the “widespread use of smartphones” and spread of misinformation about cannabis has been the main reason why consumption has increased.

Since 2013, the Osaka Prefectural Police has worked with gaming company Capcom to implement crime prevention awareness in an attempt to decrease youth crime rates. In December 2021, the agency partnered with Capcom to utilize characters and imagery from The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles to help deter youth cannabis consumption. “Capcom hopes to support crime prevention activities in Osaka and all of Japan through this program, which will see the production of 6,000 original posters, as well as 4,000 original flyers that will be included with individually wrapped face masks,” Capcom said in a press release. 

Japan has had a rich history in hemp cultivation, with the production of CBD with little to no THC being utilized in Shinto religious practices since 2016.

In June 2022, The Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum of Barcelona in Spain debuted a special Japanese-themed exhibit entitled “Cannabis Japonica” which was defined as a “fashionable journey through Japan’s cultural ties with the cannabis plant.” The exhibit shared children’s stories about ninjas jumping over hemp plants, which can often grow to be anywhere from nine to 13 feet tall. “This children’s story is a testament to a time when cannabis was ‘big in Japan’. As spring approached, each rural household would plant four to five furrows of hemp seeds. The cultivated hemp was the family’s main source of fibre, used to weave cloth,” the exhibit explained. It also featured unique 120-year-old haiku poetry about hemp, as well as clothing samples and various artifacts.

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    1. As Japan balances modern reforms with its historical ties to hemp cultivation, it will be fascinating to see how this evolving landscape impacts both local and international markets. The public comment period offers a unique chance for stakeholders to shape the future of cannabis regulation in Japan, ensuring that the benefits are maximized while addressing any potential concerns.

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