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NPA: Arrests for marijuana-related crimes exceed 5,000 for first time

TOKYO (TR) – The National Police Agency said last week that the number of persons apprehended in marijuana-related crimes exceeded 5,000 for the time last year.

On April 8, the NPA said the figure grew by 713 to 5,034 over the year before to mark the seventh consecutive yearly increase. The figure is roughly double that of 2016.

The majority of the suspects (4,121) were arrested for possession of marijuana. Another 274 were accused of distribution. Persons accused of cultivation rose by 68 to 232.

The data provided by police showed that the number of young people involved in such crimes is on the rise.

Of the 5,034 arrests, 887 were aged between 14 and 19 years old, an increase by 278 over 2019. Meanwhile, 2,540 persons in their 20s were arrested, an increase by 590.

Police arrested 5,034 persons for marijuana-related crimes in 2020 (Twitter)

“Gateway drug”

The NPA describes marijuana as a “gateway drug” that leads to the use of harder substances.

According to statistics covering a 20-year period, 42 percent of men and women aged under 30 who entered prisons for using kakuseizai, or stimulant drugs, cited marijuana as the first illegal drug they used.

An appealing point of marijuana is that it is relatively cheap. According to the NPA, the current street price is about 6,000 yen per gram, making it cheaper than kakuseizai (around 60,000 yen) and cocaine (20,000 yen).

Marijuana is also easy to obtain. Users can readily but it from acquaintances or classmates at universities, which is more convenient than relying on a drug ring tied to a criminal syndicate, the NPA said.

Many transactions originate through social media. During exchanges, users use code words, such as “vegetable” and “grass” in referring to marijuana.

Legalize it…or not

Earlier this year, New York became the 15th state in the U.S. to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The legalization follows a pattern of relaxed enforcement on use and possession of marijuana around the globe — but not in Japan.

Under Japanese law, punishment for violators can be stiff. The maximum prison term that can be handed down for the possession of marijuana is 5 years. For cultivation, the maximum is seven years.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has even warned Japan’s citizens to not use, distribute or cultivate marijuana while overseas as violators could be charged with a crime. “Therefore, never touch marijuana, even in countries where it has been legalized,” the ministry said.

Drug arrests on the rise

All told, the number of arrests for drug-related crimes increased by 715 to 14,079 in 2020 over the year before.

Of that figure, 8,471 involved kakuseizai, a decrease of 113. Marijuana ranked second (5,034). Meanwhile, synthetic drugs (201) and cocaine (188) ranked third and fourth, respectively.

The smuggling of stimulant drugs fell by 200 to 73. This was due to the reduction in inbound flights caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the NPA said.