Penalties for Drugs in Japan
Japan has some of the toughest drug laws in the developed world. In March 1993, a disc jockey from New York named Christopher Lavinger was arrested in his hotel room with 3.5 grams of cocaine, 1.5 grams of marijuana and some LSD and spent 16 months in prison and 35 days in solitary confinement.
The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law bans the production and sale of 68 types of drugs. Drugs found to cause more serious addiction and have an adverse health impact are designated as narcotics, possession of which is illegal. “Individuals caught possessing or using stimulants in Japan face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years,” Toru Igarashi and Kenji Ogata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun. “However, smugglers are punished more severely. If charged with smuggling for profit, an individual faces between three years to an indefinite term in prison. However, most people who smuggle drugs into Japan are not aware of the severity of the punishment that awaits them if they are caught.” [Source: Toru Igarashi and Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun, December 30, 2010]
In June 2003, a 32-year-old Briton was given a prison sentence of 14 years for drug smuggling. He was caught with 41,120 ecstacy tablet and 990 grams of cocaine hidden in the false bottom of a suitcase at Narita Airport in April 2002. It was the largest seizure ever at Narita. The man, Nicolas Baker, denied the charges, saying he had been duped by a friend into carrying the luggage, and was placed in solitary confinement for 10 months because he refused to plead guilty. The man who Baker said duped him was in jail in Belgium for using a similar ruse with three other people that Belgian authorities arrested but set free.
Japanese who are arrested for drug possession can often avoid a court appearance by paying police $2,000 or so. Foreigners usually end up in court. Increasingly foreigners arrested for drugs are given suspended sentences rather than jail terms. But people who been arrested are often denied bond and kept in jail until they are brought to trial.
In April 2008, a 54-year-old Briton was found not guilty on drugs, with the judge ruling that it was plausible that someone planted nearly 10 kilograms of cannabis in his luggage, The cannabis was found in his luggage by customs officials after he arrived from South Africa via Hong Kong.
See Specific Drugs Below
Japanese Celebrities and Schoolgirls on Drugs
A far amount of publicity was given to the arrest of pop singer Manabu Oshio over the death of 30-year-old woman in his apartment who was found with large quantity of MDMA on her and may have died from an overdose of the drug. Oshio reportedly gave the woman the drug while the couple partied at his posh Roppongi Hills apartment. The woman, 30-year-old bar employee Kaori Tanaka, showed signs of acute poisoning about 10 minutes after taking the drug in Oshio’s condominium. She might have been saved had he gotten help immediately when she began having problems but instead left his apartment when she became ill to get his manager. Help didn’t arrive for several hours. Oshio was quoted as saying, “She developed a health problem after taking the tablets. I got scared and left the room.”
Oshio was found guilty and sentenced to 2½ years in prison by lay judges. Prosecutors wanted six years. The court had doubts about his guilt over abandoning his responsibility but denied that his negligence cause the death. Oshio had pleaded not guilty to charges of negligence resulting in death that he was involved in the woman death, At issue was whether he could have saved her or not. Oshio said, “I didn’t think of calling an ambulance. I tried to resuscitate her, but it was no use and she died. I’m not guilty.”
In February 2011, swimsuit model Minako Komukai was arrested for possession of methamphetamines on arrival to Narita airport from Manila. Her name was found in cell phones seized from Iranian drug dealers several months before. In February 2009 she was given a suspended sentence for methamphetamine possession.
In January 2010 the arrest of a second year middle school student in Kobe for cannabis possession also got publicity. She said she was relieved by her arrest because she started using the drug with friends out of curiosity but could not stop smoking it. An article from the Yomiuri Shimbun read: “Her remarks reveal how drug use spreads among young people and how users seem to be getting younger.”
Noriko Sakai and Her Drug Scandal
A big deal was made about the arrest of former pop music idol and actress Noriko Sakai in 2009 for possession of stimulant drugs. She admitted to taking the drug and possessing it during a visit to Kagoshima island to watch the total eclipse of the sun. She disappeared for four days, apparently to avoid failing a drug test, when police sought her for questioning. Traces of stimulants were found in her hair and 0.008 grams of amphetamines were found in her home. At her first court appearance, 6,615 people waited in line in the rain for a chance to draw lots for 20 gallery seats for the hearing. Some came as far away as Taiwan and South Korea, where she big followings.
The arrest was particularly shocking because Sakai had maintained an image of a sweet and innocent idol for decade and a half. She was reportedly introduced to drugs by her husband, a self-styled professional surfer. He too was arrested for possessing stimulant drugs. She apologized to the public and received a suspended sentence. She said her drug use was a big mistake, especially considering she had a young son, and promised never to do drugs again. In the meantime her music company dropped her. Afterwards, she said she would begin a second careers as caregiver for elder people and began training to that end.
A big media frenzy ensued and a massive manhunt was undertaken when Sakai disappeared. After she was released on $50,000 bond she apologized to her fans and supporters and said, “the drugs were what a person must not get involved with...I couldn’t get over it because of my weakness. How can I pay for the crime from now? First of all, I’ll repent my sins and I swear, as a lifetime pledge, that I’ll never again have a hand in a crime like this.” Sakai later wrote in her memoir she started taking drugs to please her husband after he suggested taking them might cheer her up during a period of time she was depressed over his arrest.
In November 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported:“Actress Noriko Sakai, has announced that she will return to the showbiz world. The 41-year-old actress made the announcement at a press conference in Tokyo, after the end of the three-year suspension period of her 18-month sentence for possessing and using illegal drugs. "I'll never use [drugs] again and I'm living my new life looking forward," Sakai said. Sakai apologized again for her 2009 arrest after fleeing when her then husband was questioned by police officers over drug possession on a Tokyo street. "I was too naive and stupid--I cannot find any other words," she said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 26, 2012]
Foreign Celebrities and Drugs in Japan
Paris Hilton was denied entrance into Japan in September 2010, because of her conviction of misdemeanor drug charge after she was caught with cocaine in Las Vegas, She arrived at Narita Airport as part of a tour to promote a fashion and fragrance line but was stopped at the airport and sent back home after spending the night at a hotel there. She reportedly underwent six hours of questioning over two days.
The Rolling Stones struggled for years to gain entry to Japan but were eventually allowed in despite its members’s drug convictions. Soccer icon Diego Maradonna was initially banned from entering Japan during the 2002 World Cup finals for his past drug offenses but was finally let in with a 30-day visa as a “special delegate.”
Marijuana and Cannabis in Japan
Cannabis culture in Japan A survey in 2005 revealed that 1.3 percent of Japanese over the age of 15 had tried marijuana, a 2.6-fold increase from 1995 when only 0.5 percent said they had tried it. Many think the 1.3 percent figure is too low. A 2009 International Narcotic Control Strategy Report, issued by the U.S. State Department stated: “marijuana use is widespread” in Japan.
A record 1,446 people were caught possessing or selling cannabis in the first six months of 2009, an increase of 254 over the same period the previous year. Of those caught 84.9 percent were first time offenders and half were in their 20s.
In Japan many people obtain cannabis using the Internet. Some buy it raves. Some officials have blamed the increase in cannabis use on the number of Web sites that explain how to grow it and provide information on obtaining seeds.
Cannabis grows wild in Hokkaido. Sometimes police cut down fields of it to prevent it from being used. Much of the cannabis that is consumed—based evidence from drug busts—appears to smoked by university students and grown inside people’s homes. A kilogram of cannabis has an estimated street value of $40,000 in Japan.
In 2006, 123 people were arrested for growing cannabis in the homes. Many obtained seeds online from foreign suppliers, particularly from the Netherlands. It is not illegal to possess or sell ,marijuana seeds, which are also used in bird seed and as a spice.
The use of hemp for medicine, food and paper goes as far back the Jomon period (10,000 to 400 B.C.). Clothes worn by emperors and sumo wrestlers used to be made of hemp. Dozens of Shinto shrines around Japan are named "Taima," one of two Japanese words for marijuana. Medical handbooks for the 1930s recommends the use of cannabis as a treatment for asthma. insomnia and spasms. These days marijuana leaf images are widely displayed on T-shirts, jewelry, rearview mirror ornaments and other accessories.
Raves have become increasingly popular in Japan. They are often held outdoors, sometimes at camping sites, and last all night and into the morning. Some attract 1,000 people or more. They’re have been some drug arrests at raves in Gunma and Gifu Prefecture.
Audio Active is an experimental-dub group that dresses in astronaut suits and openly sing about the joys of getting high. Their albumsTokyo Space Cowboys and Backed to the Stoned Age includes tracks like Stoned Age, Free the Marijuana, Hempire Strike Back, Universal Joint, Weed Specialist and Psycho Buds. A member fo the group told the Daily Yomiuri, “We don’t want to force anyone to smoke marijuana, but we recommend it.”
Cannabis Laws in Japan
The Cannabis Control Law, enacted in 1948 during the Allied occupation, bans the possession, cultivation and trading of cannabis. Under its terms, people possessing a single marijuana joint can be sent to sent to prison for five years and forced to do hard labor. Foreigners caught face deportation with no possibility of reentry. First time offenders arrested for possession are generally given something like a six month in prison suspended for three years.
The number of people arrested for cannabis-related illegal activities such as possession, sales, cultivating selling cannabis seeds online is rising every year. People have also been arrested at rave events and charged with taking ecstacy and possessing marijuana.
In 2008, there were 3,832 cannabis-related crimes involving 2,778 offenders. In 2007, 2,271 people were detained on suspicion of violating th Cannabis Control Law. Of these 1,570 were in their teens and 20s. In 2006, a record 2,289 people were charged with marijuana-related crimes, up 18 percent from the previous year.
Why are the drug laws in Japan, especially those for marijuana, so harsh and followed so strictly and why is there such a strong, public outcry when someone get caught smoke pot or growing a few cannabis plants? According to an article in the British Journal of Criminology one of the reasons is the view in Japan that people who take drugs, lake self-control and strong public support of the status quo. “A highly success public education campaign has helped to suppress the Western notion that drug abuse is caused by social conditions. Many Japanese believe that people who take drugs are evil,” the article said.
Cannabis Busts in Japan
Paul McCartney of the Beatles was arrested and spent 10 days in jail in Japan in January 1980 after he was caught trying to bring 225 grams of marijuana into Japan.
In July 2008, police seized 180 kilograms of cannabis, the largest ever found in a raid and arrested two people; a 40-year-old Tokyo executive and 22-year-old Chinese student.
Cannabis use received more attention after a couple of sumo wrestlers and students at top colleges such as Keio University and Sophia University were arrested for possession.
In January 2008, two former university rugby players were given suspended prison sentences for growing marijuana in their dormitory rooms. They were given 18 month prison sentences suspended for three years. In another case a university student was given a prison sentence of three years, suspended for five years, for growing 16 marijuana plants.
Satoru Ichikawa, a 24-year-old former engineering student at Kansai University was sentenced to three years in jail and fined $110,000 for dealing cannabis. The student sold a total of 1.9 kilograms of cannabis between December 2007 and May 2008. His fine was based in the money he made through selling cannabis plus $10,000. Many of his customers were skateboarders like himself.
Marijuana-Smoking Sumo WrestlersIn August 2008, Russian sumo wrestler Wakanoho was held for possessing marijuana after his wallet was found with a joint in it. He said he got the drugs from a foreigner at a bar in the Roppongi entertainment district in Tokyo and smoked cannabis mixed with tobacco at his stable. The wrestler’s wallet was found after he lost it. A subsequent search revealed cannabis-smoking paraphernalia in his residence. He reportedly used marijuana frequently at home in Russia and began smoking marijuana when he was 14.
Wakanoho was banned for life for marijuana use, It was the first ban on an active wrestler in the history of sumo. He was offered a $50,000 severance pay. Later Wakanoho filed a lawsuit against the JSA nullifying the dismissal, saying his punishment was too severe and filed an injunction against his possible deportation. He also threatened to spill the beans on drug use, match-fixing and other “evil things” that plague sumo. He said other wrestlers smoked marijuana but were not punished. He did not name names but said he as willing to testify in court about match fixing (See Match Fixing Above).
Two other Russians—the brothers, Roho and Hakurozan—tested positive for marijuana when given a drug test. They denied smoking cannabis and were tested again with more sophisticated equipment with the same result. They continues to deny using cannabis despite the private testimony of stalemates that the two brothers told them they smoked marijuana while in Los Angeles.
After an emergency meeting of the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) Roho and Hakurozan were expelled from sumo. They fought the expulsion. In March 2009, a Tokyo District Court ruled the JSA dismissal of Roho and Hakurozan was “appropriate” and within its bounds, Hakurozan’s stablemaster Kitanoumi, who was also chairman of the JSA, stepped down from his job. Kitanoumi won 24 sumo tournament and is regarded as one of the all time greats in the sport. No other chairman had resigned before his term was completed. To American eyes it was a bit weird that he would resign over s couple wrestlers smoking pot and not resign after a young wrestler was beaten to death by his stalemates.
Wakakirin, a Japanese wrestler, was also arrested for marijuana possession after he and a musician were caught with marijuana in a police raid. Wakarkirin said he smoked marijuana for some time and bought the marijuana he was caught with from a foreigner in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. Suspicion about his drug use had been raised by a positive drug test but the results to drug test were not conclusive. He most contrite than the Russians. He said he would not accept his $50,000 retirement payout even though the JSA said he was entitled to it. In April 2009, he plead guilty to possession in a Yokohama court.
Ecstacy and Ketamine in Japan
Ecstacy has become increasingly popular among young people. The drugs are widely available at rave-style events and nightclubs with techno music. In 2004, three times as many people were arrested on ecstacy charges as in the previous year. A record 331,000 ecstacy tablets were seized in 2006.
Ketamine, a powdered anesthetic that is taken by recreational drug users, was designated a narcotic in Japan in 2007. Known as Cut or Special K, it is used along with Ecstacy the rave crowd. A gram sells for about $100 in Japan. Tokyo-based Chinese gangsters are trafficking a new synthetic hallucinogen called yaotou (shaking head).
A record 286,000 ecstacy pills worth ¥1.14 billion was seized in a raid in Saitama prefecture in February 2005. The haul was equal to two thirds of 414,700 ecstacy tablet seized in 2004. Among the four people that were arrested were an organized crime member and a hotel employee.
In April 2007, a 61-year-old mother and 25-year-old daughter were caught with 80,000 ecstasy pills worth ¥320 million at Narita Airport. They had reportedly been paid by a gangster in Aichi prefecture to smuggle the pills to Japan from the Netherlands.
Cocaine and Opium in Japan
Kitty-chan cocaine Cocaine is becoming increasingly popular among yuppies that work for securities firms in Tokyo. Users tend to gather at hip clubs in the Roppongi district. Use increased in the mid 2000s, when the economy started to recover. The users need to have a fair bit disposable income to afford cocaine which can go for as much as $550 a gram. It has become common for Japanese yuppies in some circles to entertain visiting American counterparts with a few snorts of cocaine. Some even indulge in cocaine-heroin cocktails.
In early 2004, there were four drug-related deaths and 12 near fatal overdose comas that were linked with cocaine laced with heroin. The drugs were reportedly sold by a single Iranian drug dealer. Many of the victims were Westerners. One Australian bond trader who didn’t die was immediately arrested on possession charges when he emerged from coma. The drugs found in his pockets were three parts heroin and one part cocaine.
In May 2008, opium poppies were found growing at a park in Shimotsuma, a town in Ibaraki Prefecture that hosts the Kokaigawa Flower festival. It is believed that the people that planted the seeds thought they were seeds for wild flowers such as corn poppies. Government officials were put to work pulling up hundreds of thousands of illegal poppies growing over a five hectare area.
A man, who exports automobile parts was arrested after one kilogram of heroin was found in 70 polyethylene bags in his digestive system. The heroin was discovered after the man was taken to a hospital after complaining about not feeling well. Surgeons put him under the knife and removed the bags, wrapped in adhesive tape from his stomach and intestines.