Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has recommended allowing the import of cannabis for medical use, opening a crack for medical-grade CBD.
Under the recommendation, prescription-only CBD and other medicinal cannabis products will be regulated under laws governing pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Recommendation comes on Advice from the expert team He was assigned to study cannabis issues in Japan that involved professors and medical professionals, and more than a year after the ministry first announced its intention to lift the country’s ban on cannabis-containing drugs.
The Health Ministry said the policy will align Japan with other countries that already have medical cannabis programs that allow imports and sales on prescription.
Over-the-counter sales of CBD food and cosmetic products remain illegal, but that hasn’t stopped CBD from popping up in retail stores in Japan as producers eager to reach consumers sparked a gray market with seemingly little response from enforcement agencies.
The country’s over-the-counter CBD industry was worth $59 million in 2019, according to Tokyo-based research firm Visiongraph.
The Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association (HIHA) and other cannabis stakeholders said a restrictive policy that limits CBD to medical use means that large pharmaceutical companies can control the CBD market. The association urged the government to go ahead and draw a clear line between high THC marijuana and hemp at 0.3% THC, a limit generally observed around the world although some countries in Latin America and Asia put this limit at 1.0% . The reduction is important because CBD is elevated in hemp plants in proportion to THC, which makes CBD production more efficient.
Industrial hemp is also still limited pending further changes to the country’s strict anti-cannabis law, a throwback to the days of the US occupation of Japan after World War II. Under current regulations, based on the infamous U.S. Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, only the stalk and seeds of hemp plants can be used to manufacture products, and imports of hemp products made from the leaves and flowers are illegal, as is the import of seeds for growing hemp. Marijuana is strictly prohibited and punishable by imprisonment.
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HIHA has urged the classification of industrial hemp according to its THC content and end use, with separate regulations for each plant component, and its treatment as a common agricultural product. While these changes have been discussed at the department level, the recommendation from health officials, which came late last month, falls short of the legal reviews that Japanese cannabis advocates have long sought.
The study by the expert panel that led to the ministry’s recommendation was released in May 2021. In addition to the desirability of legalizing medical cannabis, the report also addressed the need for treatment for those who use cannabis, and how to address the consumption of young people.