Japan’s burgeoning CBD and cannabis market are under siege, and the public can help bolster efforts to save it. Earlier this month, the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare revealed new proposals for THC limits on hemp products that would significantly curtail Japanese participation in international trade. Should these limits pass without any changes, they will be implemented starting October 1st. 

What Are Japan's Proposed Restrictions On THC And The CBD Market?

The agency’s plan has been characterized as “concerning,” “draconian,” and “impractically stringent” by industry stakeholders. Proposed limits would allow only the smallest fraction of THC in Japanese CBD products - .001% in oils, .0001% in edibles and cosmetics, and .00001% in beverages - creating compliance standards that would be impossible for manufacturers and brands to meet. As many American hemp cultivators and processors are well aware, it’s all too easy for plants and products to “test hot” for trace levels of THC, thus ruining entire crops and batches before they even get to market. 

“If these restrictions are put in place,” wrote Aaron Smith, co-founder and CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), in a statement opposing the Ministry’s limits, “Japanese consumers would lose access to nearly all hemp products currently on the international market today.”

What Is Japan's History With CBD And The 1948 Cannabis Control Act?

Like many East Asian nations, Japan maintains a restrictive stance toward cannabis. Possession of the full-spectrum plant can net you seven years in prison. And despite the country’s long history of cannabis farming and application of hemp in many industrial and medicinal practices, its passage of the 1948 Cannabis Control Act outlawed the use of the plant in nearly all forms. Today, the law continues to criminalize the import, export, production, sale, possession, and research of cannabis… though curiously, nothing in the legislation criminalizes consumption. 

This has paved the way for a CBD industry to thrive in Japan, since the nation’s laws do allow for the importation of products made from cannabis stalks and seeds that don’t contain THC. According to TIME Magazine, over the past decade Japan’s CBD industry has grown to a value of more than 18 billion yen (124 million USD) and is estimated to reach 83 billion yen (574 million USD) by 2025. In December 2023, the Japanese House of Councillors passed the first-ever amendment to the Cannabis Control Act, allowing the importation of certain medical cannabis products such as the CBD-based epilepsy treatment Epidiolex. Other changes reportedly relaxed regulations for CBD and hemp domestically, sparking hope among Japanese stakeholders that a homegrown industry could develop even further.

(C) Honeysuckle Media, Inc. 

Why Will Japan's Proposed Regulations Hurt The CBD Industry?

But that progress may be halted in its tracks. Roger Nakazawa, CEO of Asabis, Japan’s largest CBD and hemp community and expo organization, notes that draft regulations for the amendment included the impossible THC limitation now causing such an uproar. 

“If these limits are implemented as proposed,” Nakazawa states, “more than 90% of the products currently on the market will fail to meet the standards, potentially leading to numerous business closures.”

This opinion is echoed by Toshiki Inoue, founder of the Tokyo-based brand Chillaxy, who affirmed that “close to none” of the CBD products currently being sold in Japan would pass the testing for such limits. KCA Laboratories, a Kentucky-based testing lab registered with Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, has also contributed statements attesting to the impracticality of the proposed regulations. The company’s Chief Commercial Officer, Ryan Bellone, explained that restricting THC to such low concentrations can create myriad testing problems, with factors like the potential conversion of CBD to THC, contamination, and misidentification compounding the issues. 

Nakazawa points out that international commerce will be additionally impacted by the new regulations, creating a trade barrier between Japan and the U.S., as well as other nations engaging in the hemp and CBD markets like Switzerland, China, Lithuania, and Thailand.

Watch a video from some of Japan's medical cannabis patients courtesy of VapeMania:

How Will Japan's Proposed Regulations Harm Medical Cannabis Patients?

Beyond hurting manufacturers and brands, the government’s proposal would deprive medical patients of access to vital treatments. A coalition of patients and cannabis providers in Japan joined together to create a Change.org petition highlighting the crisis. 

“We are a group of patients who use cannabidiol (CBD) to address various health issues including epilepsy, cancer, and chronic pain, and to stay healthy,” the cohort’s statement reads. They describe the extreme nature of the Ministry’s proposals and the unlikely chance of Japan’s CBD industry to survive compliance testing should the regulations pass. The letter closes with a passionate plea: “We desperately need CBD to stay healthy. This is a life-threatening issue. Please do not take CBD away from us.”

Writing in support of Japanese consumers and stakeholders, the NCIA’s Smith sought to convince the Ministry that THC limits will have the opposite effect on public health that the agency desires. “Implementing these draconian THC limits would not further public health,” he commented. “The stringent thresholds are significantly below a dose of THC that would have any psychoactive effect on a human. However, because so few legal product manufacturers will be able to meet these standards and demand for hemp products continues to increase, the limits will likely drive consumers into a criminal market for these products. Moreover, the high costs associated with testing and the scarcity of laboratories capable of conducting testing to these standards would increase the potential for fraud.”

Adding that products on the “underground” market would not be subject to testing at all, making them a heightened danger to consumers, Smith reiterated the risk to medical patients should Japan’s CBD industry fail: “Seriously ill patients who rely on these products for their health and well-being will be put in jeopardy if Japan implements these restrictions. As products become unavailable on the legal market, patients will be forced with the terrible choice of turning to the criminal market or going without their medicine.”

Toshiki Inoue, (C) Honeysuckle Media, Inc.

Save Japan's CBD Industry: Make A Public Comment

Efforts are currently underway to save Japan’s CBD industry, but the stakeholders, consumers and patients need your help! To make your public comment by June 28th, email info@asabis.co.jp and contact@chillaxy.jp. With every comment, you are helping to save lives.


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Featured image: Tokyo, Japan (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture