Japan should approve the use of cannabis-based medicines, a health ministry panel recommended Thursday, paving the way for a possible landmark revision of the country's strict drug laws.
But the shift will not affect Japan's zero-tolerance policy on the recreational use of marijuana, with the panel in fact proposing a tightening of rules on non-medical use of the drug.
Japan's tough anti-cannabis laws have ensnared international stars including Beatle Paul McCartney, who spent nine days in detention in 1980 after the drug was found in his baggage.
But the government has been discussing approving the use of medicines derived from cannabis, already used in many countries to treat conditions like severe epilepsy.
On Thursday, the health ministry's expert panel recommended the government revise laws to allow the import and manufacture of medicines using components of cannabis.
But it also suggested the current law be tightened to state clearly that recreational use of cannabis constitutes a crime.
That would close a loophole originally meant to stop farmers from being arrested for inhaling psychoactive smoke when growing hemp for items like rope.
The recommendation comes as products containing cannabidiol (CBD) – a non-intoxicating component of cannabis – gain popularity internationally and in Japan.
The country's CBD industry had an estimated value of $59 million in 2019, up from $3 million in 2015, according to Tokyo-based research firm Visiongraph.
The panel also called for the current blanket ban on cannabis plants to be swapped for a ban on the psychoactive substance THC.
That would help ensure the budding CBD industry is not restricted, a health ministry official told AFP.
"CBD is legal and used in supplements and cosmetics," he noted.
The panel's recommendations will now be taken up by the government and changes to the law will come only after a bill is submitted to the parliament and approved by lawmakers.
Japan's Cannabis Control Act was introduced in 1948 during the post-war US occupation, but it is not an outlier in Asia, where tough penalties for drug use are the norm.
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