Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has recommended allowing imports of cannabis for medical use, opening a crack for medical grade CBD.
Under the recommendation, prescription-only CBD and other medical cannabis products would be regulated by laws governing pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
The recommendation comes on the advice of an expert panel assigned to study cannabis issues in Japan that included professors and medical professionals, and more than a year after the ministry first indicated its intention to lift the country’s ban on cannabis-based medicines.
The health ministry said the policy would align Japan with other countries that already have medical cannabis programs allowing imports and sales under prescription.
Over-the-counter sales of CBD food and cosmetics products remain illegal, but that hasn’t prevented CBD from showing up in retail shops in Japan as producers anxious to reach consumers have sparked a gray market with apparently little response from enforcement agencies.
The country’s over-the-counter CBD industry had an estimated market value of $59 million in 2019, according to Tokyo-based research firm Visiongraph.
The Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association (HIHA) and other hemp stakeholders have said the restrictive policy limiting CBD to medical use means big pharmaceutical firms could control the CBD market. The association has urged the government to go further and draw a clear line between high-THC marijuana and hemp at 0.3% THC, a generally observed limit around the world although some countries in Latin America and Asia are setting that limit at 1.0%. The limit is important because CBD rises in hemp plants in proportion to THC, making CBD production more efficient.
Hemp for industrial purposes also remains limited pending further changes to the country’s strict Cannabis Control Act, a throwback to the days of the American occupation of Japan following World War II. Under current regulations, based on the notorious U.S. Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, only the stem and seeds of hemp plants may be used to manufacture products, and imports of hemp products made from leaves and flowers are illegal, as are hemp cultivation seed imports. Marijuana is banned outright and severely punished with incarceration.
HIHA has urged that industrial hemp be classified according to THC content and end use, with separate regulations developed for each plant component, and treated as a common agricultural product. While those changes have been discussed at the ministry level, the recommendation from health officials, which came late last month, falls far short of the legal revisions that Japanese hemp supporters have long sought.
The study by the expert panel which led to the ministry’s recommendation was released in May 2021. In addition to the advisability of legalizing medical cannabis, the report also addressed the need for treatment for those who abuse cannabis, and how to address youth consumption.