Cannabis lovers party for change in strict Japan

TOKYO – Japan and stoner culture are two things you don’t hear together often. But at the Or Miyashita Park, a club in Shibuya, Tokyo, not far from the famous crossing, a few hundred mostly young Japanese gathered to celebrate 4/20 – International Weed Day.

Over three floors, guests at the Tokyo 420 festival danced to electro beats and live performances by musicians and artists.

On the second floor, a “high tech shaman” let loose a trippy, psychedelic light show.

The third floor hosted a screening of the documentary CBD Nation about the experiences of patients suffering from epilepsy, depression, cancer and PTSD who’ve been helped by medicinal marijuana, along with an art installation pouring CBD (cannabidiol) mist from a glass box encasing a hemp plant.

On the first floor, guests were greeted by Rose Inoue, a representative of the company Tokyo Mooon, which organised the event, holding a tray of CBD and CBN (cannabinol) goodies including vapes and oils.

Both CBD and CBN are cannabinoids – chemicals extracted from the cannabis plant. As CBD has no mild-altering properties and CBN only mild effects, they are still legal and increasingly popular in Japan – CBN cookies, for example, as a sleeping aid.

Ms Inoue displays a tray of CBD vapes and oils to promote legalisation of cannabis in Japan (Photo: supplied)

“This is the second year the festival has been held,” Ms Inoue explained.

“We started this event to normalise cannabis. In 2023, the cannabis control law of Japan is going to be changed. We thought that it is the right timing for a 420 event in Tokyo.”

Right now, being caught with a bag of weed can land you five years in jail in Japan, or seven years if you were planning on selling it.

“Japan is a developed country with one of the top GDPs in the world,” said Ms Inoue. “However, when it comes to cannabis, it is a backward country.”

Ms Inoue and her company are part of a small but growing legalisation movement that has been gaining momentum in recent years. The medical marijuana advocacy group Green Zone, for example, works with doctors and patients.

“Green Zone Japan is a very small organisation, focusing on education and advocacy of cannabis,” Naoko Miki, who co-founded the group, said earlier this year.

“Our focus is to help people learn more about medical cannabis. We have nothing against recreational use, it’s just that our focus is medical, because we think that’s the best way. That’s the route to start the movement going. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with recreational use.”

Even in the famously strict Far East, Japan stands out. While South Korea and notably, Thailand, have liberalised their weed laws, Japan actually seems to be going in the opposite direction. Whereas before, you could only be punished for being caught with cannabis, the government is planning to criminalise merely having THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the cannabinoid that actually gets you high) in your system. Since THC can remain in your bloodstream for more than a month, that means if foreigners or Japanese tourists smoke a blunt where it’s legal – say, the United States – and then visit Japan, they could be committing a crime.

Partygoers check out a CBD art installation (Photo: supplied)

On top of that, there are social repercussions. Being arrested with any illegal substance will not only leave you with possible jail time but ostracisation from your friends, family and job.

“There’s a very, very strong stigma, much stronger than America or Canada or anywhere else,” explained Green Zone’s Ms Miki. “So if you’re arrested, you’re not just punished by law, but by society in general – you’re ostracised, and if you’re in showbiz, your career is basically over.

“Do you know dogeza? That’s the ultimate form of apology Japanese make where you kneel and put your head on the floor. And you do that when you commit a grave sin. Owning a gram of cannabis is like that, people think it’s the devil.”

Japan is moving towards bringing in even stricter regulations on cannabis (Photo: supplied)

Many Japanese are unfamiliar with cannabis and are more likely to believe scare stories from the government and press. A survey in 2019 found that a mere 1.8 per cent had tried the devil’s herb at least once in their lives, compared to more than 40 per cent of Americans and Canadians. But that slowly seems to be changing. In the past decade the number of arrests for cannabis possession have been climbing year-on-year – peaking in 2021 with over 5,400, dropping only slightly to 5,342 last year.

But with what’s happening across Asia and North America, attitudes in Japan may be changing as well.

“I believe that CBD is definitely gaining acceptance in society,” said Ms Inoue.

“Cannabis, however, is still not positively accepted. However, in Thailand, cannabis has been decriminalised, and [in Japan] legal THC analogues have been spreading in the streets in a way that is different from the era of illegal drugs. Therefore, cannabis may not be viewed as negatively as you think. It will take time, but we are steadily moving toward the normalisation of cannabis.”

Niko Vorobyov is the author of Dopeworld. Follow him on Twitter @Narco_Polo420

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