Following the recent announcement by the Japanese government to form a committee to discuss measures to strengthen Japan’s cannabis laws, the Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association would like to use this forum, kindly provided by our partners at Medical Marijuana 411, to present an urgent statement on this development.
Hokkaido is the northern most island in Japan – roughly the size of Maine – known for open spaces, abundant farmlands and, until the mid 20th century, as the largest producer of cannabis in Japan. The Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association – the only of its kind in Japan – was founded in 2014 to raise global awareness of the potentials of industrial hemp and advocate its legalization in Japan.
WHY WE WANT TO SPEAK OUT
To provide some context, the Japanese government plans to form a commission to discuss measures to strengthen the Japanese Cannabis Control Act including, specifically, making cannabis use illegal. Currently in Japan, possession and cultivation are illegal and use is unregulated.
This development sends the wrong message to Japanese people that cannabis is dangerous and will foster negative publicity – alas, this is what some in the government intend – ignoring that, prior to prohibition, cannabis was a key agricultural crop in Japan for 12,000 years.
Established under pressure by the US at the end of WWII, the Cannabis Control Act is draconian, prohibiting possession of cannabis containing THC, and seed import or cultivation, including strains absent THC entirely. The Hokkaido Hemp Association would like to propose a revision of the Cannabis Control Act based on the science and unbiased, transparent discussions for public review.
THE PROMISE OF CANNABIS
Cannabis is immensely varied. Some strains are cultivated for medical use, including those with high THC concentrations, while others, containing traces amounts of THC, are cultivated for use as a natural fiber. The EU, Canada, US and China define industrial hemp as cannabis with THC concentrations below 0.2%-0.3%. In these countries, registered varieties may be freely cultivated by anyone.
Cannabis stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are being developed for a wide range of environmentally friendly and socially beneficial products, including pharmaceuticals, Chinese traditional medicine, CBD oil, food, cosmetics, clothing, building materials, automobile parts and animal feed, to name a few. The cannabis plant is receiving attention worldwide as a new and promising, sustainable agribusiness.
CURRENT BARRIERS IN JAPAN
From 2013 to 2019, the Agriculture Department of the Hokkaido government studied the feasibility of industrial hemp, including the impact of cultivation in the public and private sectors. The results were overwhelmingly positive and, in December 2017, the local assembly unanimously requested the nation’s ruling cabinet and parliament to remove legal barriers and allow the return of hemp cultivation to Hokkaido. The request felt on deaf ears.
The Cannabis Control Act was enacted in 1947, over 70 years ago, under foreign pressure and without scientific basis. It not only prohibits possession of cannabis flowers and leaves, but also forbids the import of seeds from strains that can germinate – including those with trace levels of THC – preventing Japan from cultivating any of the promising foreign hemp varieties currently being developed around the world. Japan’s current legal cannabis framework is embarrassingly outdated when compared to the science of 70 years and pragmatic, responsible moves by governments around the world towards legalization,
As in any country, the law in Japan needs to strike a balance between control and leniency. Below are our specific proposals to meet this goal. We ask an impartial discussion of these points.
GROUND RULES FOR THE GOVERNMENT’S NEW COMMISSION
We have concerns how the commission is assembled and conducted and strongly ask:
- Inclusion of varied, expert opinions from relevant disciplines, including medicinal, legal, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and the social sciences, foreign and domestic hemp operators, consumers and health care patients.
- Full transparency who is on the expert panel and full disclosure of the transcripts of the proceedings to the general public to ensure a democratic discourse of the relevant science, social and legal considerations without bias.
HOW CANNABIS IS DEFINED
- Early announcements about the commission suggest cannabis is being lumped into one category with no designation based on THC concentration, such as separate classification and treatment for industrial hemp in the manner used by most countries implementing practical, legal standards.
- The current law in Japan prohibits the cultivation of Cannabis sativa L. plants regardless of THC concentration. This law should regulate based on purpose and THC content.
- No other country in the world divides the cannabis plant into legal and illegal components, as Japan does by designating flowers and leaves illegal while stems and seeds are not. This classification is impractical and should be abolished.
SEPARATE TREATMENT OF INDUSTRIAL HEMP
- As in other countries including the US, cannabis in Japan containing less than 0.3% THC concentration should be reclassified as industrial hemp and legal and under the jurisdiction as an agricultural product.
- The existing licensing system for industrial hemp limits cultivation to a handful of permits, based on special exemptions for traditional hemp farmers at the end of WWII. The jurisdiction of prefectural governors should be allowed to continue, provided the national government refrains from interfering and standards are clarified and licenses made available to those who meets the requirements.
- At the national level, the jurisdiction of industrial hemp should be transferred from the narcotics department of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. This new ministry should implement measures to promote the research and development of varieties, cultivation methods and usages for industrial hemp.
- Trade restrictions should be lifted to permit the importation of live seeds from overseas free from heat treatment sterilization.
MEDICAL CANNABIS & RECREATIONAL CANNABIS
- The government has announced plans to change the legal treatment of medical cannabis and introduce stronger laws regarding recreational use. More sensible laws concerning medical cannabis is particularly urgent and should be moved forward without delay.
- We ask that the commission for this discussion be an opportunity to foster understanding through transparent and expert opinions concerning medical and recreational cannabis, that include humanitarian considerations, scientific expertise and recognition of how global attitudes have changed over the past 70 years.
- We strongly oppose regulatory measures concerning medical and recreational cannabis that hinder the promotion of industrial hemp.
To our friends in the MM411 community – tell us what you think. We welcome opinions for around the world !
Dr. Harumi Kikuchi
Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association
Kurt has been a resident of Japan for over 30 years, and brings expertise in Learning & Development HRD and OD throughout Asia, new business development and entrepreneurship. Originally from San Francisco, Kurt began his professional career in finance as an analyst with UBS where we was a top-ranked analyst, before starting his own management consulting firm with partners from McKinsey Japan. Later he joined the preeminent silicon valley venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital, as Japan advisor forging alliances with leading Japanese think tanks, including The University of Tokyo, and more recently, senior manager with Amazon Japan, in charge of a $800 million business. Kurt was educated at San Francisco State University, Stanford Business School and Japan’s prestigious Waseda University.