Marijuana "epidemic" shows Japan's drug allergy

Wed Dec 17, 2008 5:21am EST
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - First a sumo wrestler, then an actor, now students at elite universities and a tennis player -- the list of people caught using marijuana has sparked fears of reefer madness in Japan.

More than 2,000 people were arrested on dope charges between January and October this year, a 19 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the National Police Agency.

"(The) increase in marijuana abusers, as well as tightening regulations, are both factors that pushed up the number of arrests," Shingo Katsuno, vice president and an expert on Japan's drug issues at Hyogo University of Teacher Education, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Japan is now highly interested in the issue because it is spreading in places like colleges, where it hardly existed before," he added.

Television stations and newspapers have been running almost daily stories on high profile busts, drug dealers and ordinary people whose lives have allegedly been ruined by pot.

But experts point out that surveys suggest reality is a lot different -- just one percent of 18-year olds in Japan have ever used marijuana according to a nationwide poll of about 40,000 students in 2006.

In fact, the "epidemic" scare stories are more indicative of how much Japan continues to resist the drug, Katsuno said.

"No other country is making such a big fuss with some 1 percent. This shows the strict awareness Japanese society has against drugs," he said.   Continued...