Tangent: Terrie’s Take on Japan going to pot


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Hi Blog.  Surveying the wave of reefer madness in Japan (from sumo wrestlers to curious celebrities; blame the foreigner wherever possible), here’s Terrie Lloyd’s Terrie’s Take from a coupla weeks ago.

Another reeferential article from the WSJ March 4, 2009:


And I, BTW, came out on the J-side regarding national policies towards drugs, and was duly taken to task by somebody in the know.  That historical article from 1996 (!) here.


Arudou Debito in Sapporo

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, February 22, 2009 Issue No. 506

If there is anything the Japanese authorities are allergic to, following perhaps foreign burglars and divorced foreigners wanting custody of their kids, it would be marijuana — the demon weed that always seems to have been “bought from a foreigner in Roppongi”. The media is having a field day with the number of arrests frequently, and clearly the police are feeding lots of juicy details as each case breaks.

The National Police Agency announced this last week that it arrested 2,778 people for marijuana offenses in 2008, 22.3% more people than in 2007. 90% of those arrested where first-time offenders — not habitual criminals, and 60% of them were under the age of 30. Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a parade of high-profile marijuana users get busted. Entertainers, sumo wrestlers (Russian and Japanese), students at prestigious universities (e.g., Keio and Waseda), foreign rugby players, and even large portions of entire university rugby teams.

How do Japanese get a taste for marijuana? With the draconian laws over possession, it’s surprising that anyone goes anywhere near the stuff. Still, partly it’s because of the weird split personality the judiciary has over the various forms of the plant. Since the seeds do not yet contain detectable levels of THC, the active psychotropic ingredient, they are legally sold in Japan as a spice for cooking and as bird seed. Some of this product has been irradiated and can’t grow into plants, but other sources don’t go to this amount of effort. More recently seeds are also sold as curiosities and you can go online and order them from both local suppliers as well as from “coffee shops” in Amsterdam — 10 seeds for between JPY10,000 to JPY20,000. It’s only when they’ve been planted and the plants produce THC that the substance suddenly becomes illegal.

But to get to the stage of wanting to plant out your own stash, it seems that most Japanese kids, and usually it’s the richer, better educated kids who are likely to travel overseas, that get to taste the demon weed first. They will try it on the beach in Hawaii, or in universities on the U.S. mainland, in Australia, the U.K., etc. Or they’ll travel to Amsterdam to enjoy the hash experience. However it starts, they soon realize that marijuana can be a lot of fun and is essentially harmless (let’s not get into possible gene damage). When they get back to Japan, they realize that the demonization of the plant is not based on fact or logic and they talk to their friends, write about it on Japanese blogs, and basically reinforce the aura of coolness that the hemp culture has here.

There are also the wild hemp plants up north in Aomori and elsewhere, which we recall were particularly popular with surfers back in the 80’s and 90’s. Things may be a bit different these days, especially now that the authorities in Hokkaido have started issuing growing licences for varieties proven not to be a significant source of THC, but back then, in the middle of Fall, groups of guys would get in their vans and do a road trip to the areas where THC-rich wild hemp plants are still known to pop up. Indeed, there were so many people doing this that they got to be a nuisance and the police were called out to warn them to stay away.

We don’t do drugs — it’s just not worth the risk. However, researching for this column, and amusingly we found lots of information on the teacher website www.gajinpot.com, we find that the price of weed in Tokyo is as high as JPY200,000 a gram, which is about 40 times the price in Hawaii. This means that not only does the trade attract criminals out to make some big money, but it is also highly tempting for kids who otherwise might not bother to sell the stuff. After all, if you’ve been able to buy the seeds, and marijuana does grow furiously like a weed, then what better way to pay for electricity and grow lights than to sell a few bags to your friends so as to support the costs?

Unfortunately, despite the seemingly innocuous nature of marijuana, the fact remains that Japan wants none of the foreign drug taking culture here. Sentences for locals include 3-5 years in prison, while for foreigners it means prison followed by deportation. We don’t see any likelihood of attitudes changing any time soon. So the result is that otherwise law-abiding kids, who would have gone on to quietly become doctors and scientists, are instead hauled before the courts, are castigated in the newspapers, and have their lives and family reputations ruined for good.

It all seems so pointless. Heck, one of them might have even become a future Prime Minister. Since Japan likes to emulate U.S. values (it was GHQ that criminalized marijuana in 1948 in the first place), maybe they’ll take note that Barack Obama is the first U.S. president to admit youthful marijuana and cocaine use, and certainly he has the people’s trust a darned sight more than any Japanese politician of recent times.


11 comments on “Tangent: Terrie’s Take on Japan going to pot

  • Hi Debito & Hi Terrie,

    In his concluding para, Terrie made me to think that its after all relativity of each culture. For example, chewing tobacco and spitting is a local culture in India/Pak and close by nations, yet we cant do that in Singapore for fear of fine. Smoking by celebrities in Indian Cinema is recently being banned whereas you can smoke like anything in any other country. You can almost happily die by inhaling passive smoke in Japan. Another example here is of Bollywood movies where moral police demonstrations are always seen for notoriously new/rare issues like polygamy / bigamy, homo / lesbian sex which are an absolute cultural no no here and news is that even watching adult / porn sites will soon be banned in India. But, all the world knows that you can buy the hemp and pot much cheaper in India and this part of the world. So if Japan has tough laws there or a very high price, the target or suspicion of origin will always be towards the NJ communities / NJ people first. I personally think that the J community wont give a damn if Mr. Obama ever had a youthful dose, but if its any of their would be PMs, they would bring him down in days. What is a cultural divide, will always remain to be a cultural divide and all we can do is to take good cues and help our communities to behave in Japan. Thank you both for a wonderful article and bringing it to blog !

  • Terrie Lloyd’s “research” found “the price of weed in Tokyo is as high as JPY200,000 a gram”.

    WRONG. The price of hash in Tokyo is 5,000 yen a gram and the price of weed in Tokyo is from 6,000 yen a gram to 8,000 yen a gram.

    Let’s remember, we’re talking about flowers from a non-toxic plant (totally unlike toxic coca and poppy plants), and these buds have been imbibed safely since the beginning of written history (see Qěnēhbośem’s importance for ancient Jewish ceremonies, and un-coincidentally Asa’s importance for ancient Shinto ceremonies) without ever having the ability to cause overdoses (see relative non-toxicity of Cannabis compared to coffee.)

    Medical history shows it is impossible to overdose on Marijuana because the LD-50 is 1:30,000 (which means one would need to smoke 1,500 pounds of it within 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.) Compare that level of safety with the number of deaths caused annually by Alcohol, Tobacco, Aspirin, Caffeine, and Pharmaceutical Drugs: http://www.jackherer.com/comparison.html

    And even IF the non-toxic plant in question could be truthfully portrayed as bad for the body (which it can’t) the simple fact is adults have the right to put WHATEVER substance into their body in the privacy of their homes (whether it’s heart-attack-causing animal-corpses called meat, or liver-corroding fermented-vegetables called alcohol, or admittedly radioactive-plants called tobacco http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/sources/tobacco.html) as long as they don’t force the substance into other people’s bodies.

    In every real crime there is a victim, and society rightfully imprisons the person who committed the crime against the victim.

    In the case of “crimes” without a victim, society is wrongly imprisoning a person for putting something into his or her own body.

    When adults choose to imbibe a plant behind closed doors (or 2 consenting adults agree to trade money for sex, or even 2 consenting adults have gay sex) as long as none of the people involved feel they are a victim, society has no right to imprison any of those people.

    Whether or not society agrees, adults have a right to privacy, the right to do what they want to themselves in the privacy of their homes.

    There is only one law, and it is all inclusive: Do not hurt other humans. Yes, that includes other humans’ bodies, and their property.

    Choosing what plants to put into your own body is a human right, imprisoning people for imbibing a plant is a society’s WRONG.

  • betty boop says:

    what is an even bigger problem here – seldom heard of – is speed. and of course thinner. don`t know why they pick on pot – unless it is the roppongi foreigner angle.

  • its hilarious how whenever a japanese gets arrested for pot they try to blame it on some mysterious foreignor in roppongi. and then the mass media just take the old fish tale hook,line and sinker. even the japanese guy that was dealing pot at his famous university waseda tryed to say that.
    sorry that alibi jusst doesnt cut it..

  • What does Terri mean by “possible gene damage”? THC can’t break DNA bonds.

  • Terrie Lloyd’s “research” found “the price of weed in Tokyo is as high as JPY200,000 a gram”.

    WRONG. The price of hash in Tokyo is 5,000 yen a gram and the price of weed in Tokyo is from 6,000 yen a gram to 8,000 yen a gram.

    I would have no idea whether that’s expensive or not, but it seems like the mistake is the result of the conversion from grams to ounces; 6k-8k/g is about 170k-230k/oz.

    Nobody ever accused the Americans of proficiency with the Metric system!

  • The real issue is that there is punishment for issues that are outside of legal justification. It is a damn plant for Gods’ sake. It isn’t even possible to use against people, unlike many weeds that anyone can grow in their garden because they only kill you or make you sick.

    The laws and implications are different, but it is equivalent to the Doburoku issue. What taxes are you exactly avoiding when you are producing and consuming the alcohol yourself?

    There are two kind of laws Civil law and Criminal law, and neither should be concerned about what individuals do to themselves or with other consenting adults in their houses as long as there isn’t money involved.

    If I ever naturalized these are the sort of things I would run for office for. Not the pensions I would receive if I was reelected for 12 consecutive years.

    That said, I have no pity for the NJ and Japanese that knowingly violate the law even if the law itself is unfair. You did it, likely funding some mafia, you spend years in jail.

  • @Terrie Lloyd –
    no it does not cost 200,000 yen a gram, the most you will pay
    is 5000-6000 for high grade and usually 3000-4000 for good hash
    from Lebanon / Pakistan / India.

    This is a country where your whole life can be ruined for possessing
    a plant but child porn is legal.

    says it all really. Forget back to the future, Japan is back to the
    friggin dark ages

  • Am I the only person who sees this as an ‘odd’ essay? There is no clear point and the facts are clearly mixed in with hearsay, which harms the facts themselves… ‘marijuana is bad in japan,’ ‘marijuana is bad,’ ‘marijuana is good but japanese people are too stupid to understand it,’ ‘marijuana is dangerous if you’re a foreigner living in japan,’ …

    those of us who have lived here long enough know what the situation is, as well as those of us in the west know the laws of our respective countries. Is there any ambiguity or any ‘controversial’ issue being addressed here? Why did I waste minutes reading this?

  • I think the movie Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas is a must see for anyone contemplating the habitual use of Wacky Weed. It is sad that people in Japan with glaucoma will end up going blind as this invaluable sight saving medicine is unavailable. As well as those not allowed its medicinal use who are suffering from other serious ailments.

    If at point in time it is completely decriminalized in all of the G-7 countries Japan will inevitably follow along with the trend. Keeping in mind even in the U.S. it is still highly illegal in some states and yet slightly permissible in others.

    I have two sons and I hope they never ever become users as they are capable of achieving so many things in life. They don’t need a demotivating debilitating vice to hold them back. Of course I feel the same in regards to alcohol. Though, I would put more of an emphasis on the debilitating than the the demotivating in the case of booze. If they ever started smoking cancer sticks I think I would just cry.

    I’m a 1960’s hippy child but my parents and most of their generation of baby boomers finally realized how they couldn’t get anything accomplished in their lives until they gave up most everything except their coffee. I’ve known hundreds of pot heads but I’ve never seen any that have ever ended up being proud of themselves when they are in their middle ages and still puffing away.

    I’m so happy that my boys grew up in Japan believing that pot is as dangerous as heroin. I would encourage anyone who is a habitual user to take along look in the mirror and be honest with themselves if they are really getting ahead and moving forward towards their dream and goals in life.

    All that being said the laws of every country in the world should allow people the individual freedom to do whatever they want to themselves individually in the privacy of their domicile. Those freedoms should in no way be construed as a legal right to harm, influence, detain, harass, or coerce another individual or their rights, property, etc.

  • It’s sad that Obama has already toadied up for the power.
    Illegal ganja supports paying divisions of corporate governments designed in profit structures. Use of police resources,jail space,courts, public defenders, countless bureaucrats, state prison, state jail, and federal prisons also bring jobs to the community.
    Marijuana cases make up a good bit of the court load, and without marijuana convictions there would be no need of privately owned prisons, and violent and dangerous criminals wouldn’t find “early release” so easy to come by.
    Here we sit in a depression. Legalize,tax sales,boom!
    The farmer has a new cash crop, the drug gangs have just found one division to be obsolete.
    This would be change we could believe in.
    This would fill the coffers with that dirty sweet lucre, and who gets hurt?
    “Legalise It!”- Bob Marley

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