Drug Laws in Japan: You’d Better Have A Prescription

South Park's Mr. Mackey

“Drugs are bad, m’kay?”

Let’s face it, Japan can be a weird place sometimes.When Japan isn’t inventing such useful things as poop-powered motorcycles, they’re churning out some of the strangest movies known to man.

And while you might think that only explanation for Japan’s weirdness must be copious amounts of psychedelics, it turns out that the Japanese do not mess around when it comes to drugs.

Japanese drug law is among the harshest in the world, and can be even worse if you’re a foreigner. Nobody is safe, not even a (former) Beatle.

Drugs in Japan

Japanese law and society at large usually view drug possession as almost an unconscionable act. Japanese citizens who are caught growing, possessing, or using illegal drugs of pretty much any kind find themselves in deep trouble.

Not only do drug offenders face up to five years in prison for their first offense, but there’s tons of other, non-legal repercussions too. A couple years ago, both a rugby player and a sumo wrestler were found to be in possession of marijuana, and both athletes had their Japanese sports careers ended.

People who get caught with drugs can be fired from their jobs, expelled from school, and have their life flipped, turned upside-down Bel-Aire style. In other words: it sucks to get caught with drugs if you’re a Japanese citizen.

Screenshot from the Playstation game RezDrug trip, or classic console game Rez? You decide.

And if the criminal penalties weren’t enough of a deterrent, drugs are really pricey in Japan compared to other parts of the world. According to the United Nations, Japan is the most expensive place in the world to get high. Tokyo sure ain’t Amsterdam.

So between the threat of jail time and the incredible expense, it’s not surprising that drug usage in Japan is pretty low.

But the way Japan treats its own citizens pales in comparison to the treatment that foreigners face for drug charges.

Gaijin on Drugs

If you’re visiting Japan from another country, it’s probably best to not even think about drugs. The law is never kind to foreigners in any country, but if you’re a gaijin with drugs, you’re a gaijin in trouble.

The US State Department warns of how harsh Japanese law can be on foreigners caught with illegal drugs in Japan:

…offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines. In most drug cases, suspects are detained and barred from receiving visitors or corresponding with anyone other than a lawyer or a U.S. consular officer until after indictment. Solitary confinement is common.

Yikes. Given, this sort of treatment might be more reflective of Japan’s justice system, but that’s a whole other issue for another post.

But seriously, don’t do this – you’ll be shot where you stand.

The Rolling Stones, former Beatle Paul McCartney, and Paris Hilton have all been denied entrance to Japan because of prior drug charges in their home countries. (But really, can you blame the Japanese for banning Paris Hilton from their country?)

Usually though, celebrities are eventually allowed into Japan. But for the rest of us who aren’t lucky enough to be greeted at Narita by hordes of screaming fans, it’s doubtful that you’ll ever be welcome in Japan if you’ve faced a drug charge at any time in your life.

And, as a recent story shows, if you try to get drugs into Japan from elsewhere, you can find yourself in pretty hot water. An American student studying in Japan is in jail at the moment because a friend of his sent him marijuana-infused sweets. In the eyes of Japanese law, it doesn’t matter that this student legally receives medical marijuana in his home state.

Is Japan’s drug policy too harsh? That’s definitely an issue up for debate. But the bottom line is if you’re looking to visit or live in Japan, you should be so drug-free that you make the Pope look like Hunter S. Thompson.

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  • Brian Parker

    In a fairly recent study conducted in the United Kingdom, both cigarettes and Alcohol were determined to be more dangerous than Molly, LSD, and Marijuana.  It very much IS all about the benjamins.  Not saying drugs aren’t harmful, however i am suggesting we re-evaluate our ranking system and definition of what is harmful.  It’s curious that two drugs that are more dangerous than LSD, ecstasy, and weed are as available as they are.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/alcohol-more-dangerous-than-lsd-says-drug-adviser-1811247.html

  • Jgh

    Argh! But I need my non-presciption drugs to stay alive (magnesium cabonate, acetyl-para-aminophenol and calcium cabonate, in a sucrose packing).

  • Jordan mckinney

    But how am i going to have fun at concerts and raves :(

  • neko-chan

    This is probably another reason why Japanese live longer :D

  • ZXNova

    This is kinda ironic since Japan was the country that invented meth.

  • Zman

     dude, sorry, but you’re an idiot. just because others are doing it doesn’t mean that its allowed. Thats like saying, “Oh look people are killing each other in Rwanda. Let’s go kill people too!”

  • belgand

     Eh, it’s fairly trivial to get a prescription in California. You see ads for places in the alt weeklies to get them for about $50 and the dispensaries run ads for specials. Hell, a friend of mine ran into a guy who owns a dispensary at a restaurant a while back and after talking for a few minutes offered to sell to him claiming that his lack of a prescription was no big deal.

    The “medical” aspect is just a very thin cover like “massage” often is for prostitution. Looking over the list of various conditions I could probably qualify for 7-8 of them and I wouldn’t even consider myself as having any sort of real medical ailment that needed any sort of treatment.

  • belgand

     It’s also absolutely crucial for astrogation. Though it will turn your eyes blue.

  • Foolish tom

    =death

  • Plantaganda

    Is a more fitting town to trip in? Goddamnit world, why must you suck so hard?

  • Glowy

    Interesting country, but unfortunately too many totalitarian tendencies to contend with. Would living there be more like a job than relaxation? Hmm…

  • http://mcmiv.com/ Mark Mathis IV

    You need to watch Enter the Void, sir.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.rawley Jeremy Rawley

    This wouldn’t happen if they’d became an American colony.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    My question is, how can they then be so accepting of alcohol and nicotine?

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Then again, I think I can answer my own question: Japan can accept alcohol and nicotine the same way the Midwest can accept caffeine. (Around here, people who drink or smoke are pretty much the scum of the earth, but you can have a twenty-large-cups-a-day coffee habbit and be an upstanding citizen, albeit a very grouchy one.)

  • JTamayo

    My god, the more I read about Japan, the more it seems like -heaven- to me.

    Living in America, I can’t escape the horrible stench or idiocy that surrounds the use of drugs. Don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t think that there is a moral issue with smoking weed or anything, but the same goes for licking windows. Even in spite of the fact that studies have shown that drugs screw up the way the synapses in your brain fire off, I can confidently say that I need no studies to back up my absolute statement that most people who do drugs here are just outright STUPID.

    People can debate over weed all they like, but at the end of the day, there will always be SOME illegal drug, and being more lenient on any of them just helps to push the boundary further into a society full of drug users. I hate the smell of drugs, I hate the general, stereotypical pothead and I absolutely LOVE countries that embrace the same ideas as I do. I don’t care how many studies or claims people shove in my face about drugs being “harmless” and such, drugs are a bad idea in general. To be honest, it’s because of Japan’s strict, no-tolerance attitude that I’m leaving America.

  • AB

    Well, american politics and twisted economic system doesn’t really help Mexico either.. That said, I live in Oslo, Norway. And we have MAJOR heroin problems.. And I’m all for strict laws on drugs. But Marihuana is not that dangerous or destroying. I don’t smoke weed, I like sake. But 5 years for marihuana is like death penalty for smelling your exhaust :/

  • さくら

    don’t

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.rawley Jeremy Rawley

    Just legalize drugs and be done with it! Why the hell do Japanese people put up with those crap laws instead of adopting OUR policies? Smoking a bowl is not the same as shooting someone! Why can’t they open their eyes and learn the truth? Are they mentally impaired?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000708374288 Smythe Namba

    unfortunately, yes, the laws do work. i think it goes beyond that though, its more of a social pressure and a belief that drugs and people who use them are evil. i think japan has the most cigarette smokers though. i think its another instance of the government taking away your freedom. i recently quit heroin, crack, even weed so i wouldnt have a problem visiting my incredibly sick grandmother in japan. with no alternative my PTSD and bipolar is leaving me depressed and suicidal. even then i may not be allowed reentry for my history with drug abuse. its fucked up. it should be my choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sami.lifted Sami Lifted

    You guys are all retarded and close minded. Any intellectual would understand this causes issues in the long run. Believe it or not the legalization of all drugs is safer for a global community. Before you guys get butt heart and thumbs down me, think about it, the cartels, mafias, street gangs, even yakuza (for Japan) would lose a lot of their funding and then their power. This would result in overall lower crime rates and possibly even drug usage. Look up Portugal’s drug laws and look how successful they are. They make America look like shit when it comes to handling drugs and it’s very humane and intellectual.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TenmaMetsuki Fatima Ansari

    The weird thing to me is how you’re saying all this as if it’s a bad thing, weed aside this is great news! It SHOULD be like this EVERYWHERE drugs have countless mental, morale and monetary repercussions and zero benefits to anyone involved except the drug dealer profiteering off the idiots

  • Nope

    All drugs should not be legalized. Look Marijuana is not some myrical drug that gets you high with no back lash. Have you done much re-search lately? There is a really really strong link to people who smoke Marijuana often to get Psychosis later on. Which is why it should only be used for medical use in pill form. I’m sorry but now that there is more re-search being done (Although, it is quite hard to re-search Marijuana) there are more problems being found. Right now there is a link between testicular cancer and Marijuana being re-searched. 60% of people who smoke Marijuana get physiologically addicted (Meaning they feel the withdrawal symptoms even if they aren’t supposed to b there.) No. It’s not been found to be a gateway drug, but that’s only because barley ANY re-search has been done on that. Stoners’ like to turn that around and make it seem like it’s just not a gateway drug. Even though many people who do Marijuana do other drugs too (Because think, they are at parties and someone brings out different drugs and people try it because hey they are high and probably drunk.)

    Not, who wants to move to Japan with me?

  • Matt

    With that logic alcohol should be illegal (which it is far far worse), or hell anything that causes negative effects with lots of use (fast food, sweets etc). Which is funny because alcohol is HUGE in Japan and its not uncommon to get wasted every single night as a salaryman…

  • Baxter

    Wow you’re all huge idiots. Legalize and regulate all drugs is the only way. Just, wow. Children.

  • kingdo goodbomber

    lol, all this scary BS and numbers but no links. How about some sources, scaremonger?

  • kingdo goodbomber

    and it sounds like you are saying that actions have consequences. WOW! WHAT A REVELATION!!!!

    Are you the Savior? Come here to save smokers from themselves??????

  • kingdo goodbomber

    it works because their culture is authoritarian.

  • Kaecyy

    I am a Japanese American. And I say TO HELL with Japan for this anti-Japanese idiocy. Drug laws have the sole effect of persecuting minorities and suppressing the higher IQ, non-conformist, visionary, etc members of society— artists, musicians, writers, creators, designers, etc. If Japan wants to have its own Steve Jobs’, Carl Sagans, etc (who both were entheogen users who credited these drugs with ESSENTIAL insights)… legalize all entheogenic drugs. Cannabis, LSD, and psilocybin are good examples— non-toxic, and used responsibly are safer than coffee, alcohol, or vitamin C. In fact a scientific study showed LSD therapy cures alcoholism. And cannabis HAS ALWAYS BEEN an essential part of Chinese and Japanese Traditional Medicine.

    So end this ahistorical World Civil Class and Race War on a Selection of Drugs. RIGHT NOW. Here’s a text I wrote about the US war, but it can be equally used to indict Japan’s war crimes in this matter:

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    It is in the nature of war that all wars are wasteful. But not all wars are senseless.

    Yet to fight a war without applying the best available objective, empirical, scientific, and expert analyses, at all possible levels and opportunities— and without taking actions and crafting policies that implement the letter and spirit of the results of these findings— is to fight a war literally without intelligence… in both senses of the word.

    Sun Tzu dictates that to fight a war without intelligence, is to seek a guarantee that the war will be both wasteful and senseless.

    The War on Drugs is not an artful war, and it is not a war fought with intelligence— rather it is a malignant, superstitious relic from the dark ages… the World Wars, and Jim Crow. Begun three score and fifteen years ago, in the ashes of the First Prohibition on alcohol, this Second Prohibition has in fact proven with each passing year to be even more baseless and reprehensible than its predecessor. Looking clearly and dispassionately at the evidence, we can only rationally conclude that the War on Drugs has been a senseless waste of human lives and treasure.

    This is America’s longest war. Make no mistake— this is a real war, a shooting war, with hundreds of thousands of real deaths and POWs. And it is at the same time a fake war, a manufactured war— launched upon lies, without a scrap of evidence, and continued flying in the face of decades of reputable scientific research and good intelligence. It is also a civil war… which our own governments are fighting against the people of the world. With our own money.

    This is a war that is tearing families and friends apart, making enemies of natural allies, and pitting brother against brother.

    This is a war that all of us are losing… right now, as I write this.

    We the People will no longer respect the authority of governments, or their attendant laws and agents, that wage civil war on their own people.

    Any governing body that upholds unscientific legislation of broadly and acutely harmful effect— in this, the 21st Century— deserves not just the scorn, but even the open rebellion of its constituents.

    In this 21st Century, we not just as Americans but as the most powerful single community in our global human civilization will face a host of cold, hard, life and death challenges, with the highest stakes imaginable— from artificial intelligence to disease control to mass extinction to genetic engineering to overpopulation to climate change, to name a few, and on to challenges we haven’t realized or even imagined yet.

    These are wars that will have to be fought with intelligence, and the vision to plan 40 or 400 years ahead… not 4 years ahead. To meet them successfully, the challenges of tomorrow demand of us today the broad and successful implementation of scientific recommendations— at the personal, local, federal, and global levels.

    The future is far too dangerous for us to accept anything but a humanistic government that believes in science, and proceeds in its policies from that belief. Because it is the choices we make today, on scientific issues like this one, that— taken together in the vast swirling whole of human endeavor across the globe— will decide whether the future of human civilization rests in shining cities, or in drowned worlds.

    Any government in the 21st Century— particularly one as large and powerful as the United States— that does not proceed from a basis of scientific principles, is more than merely quaint or obsolete.

    It is a menace to our survival. It is a menace, in fact, not only to the long term well-being and survival of its own citizens— but it is a menace to the survival of the human species as a whole.

    It is a wasteful war to reform such governments.

    But it is not a senseless war.

    Sisters and brothers— citizens of the world, my fellow Americans. It is time for us to find another way.

    It’s time for all of us to end the War on Drugs. Together. It is time to speak out, to educate, to petition, to reform, and to rebel. It’s time to medicalize, to legalize, to regulate, and to tax. It’s time to release, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the prisoners. It’s time to be humane, to be responsible, and to move on together— to the real challenges we share.

    Science brought us to the Moon and Franklin. Superstition brought us to Salem and McCarthy.

    Help us to end this modern witch hunt. Around the world. Today.

    I’ll see you in the future.

  • William Karinen

    Cannabis can potentially trigger physcosis in those who already are predisposed to the disease, it doesn’t cause it. Cannabis can be psychologically addictive just as video games, tv, and the Internet can be. By your logic TVs should be banned because the average American watches 5hrs per day.
    Finally, the only reason that cannabis would be considered a gateway drug(and I don’t agree that it is) would be because it is illegal in the first place, and contact to someone selling an illegal drug could potentially expose you to other illegal drugs. Your argument is a fallacy.

  • William Karinen

    Drugs are only a problem in the US because they are illegal, and there is demand for them, this is what creates black markets and therefor crime. We’ve seen it with the prohibition of Alcohol in the 1920s.
    Japan does have meth and cocaine problems just as the US, but it has stricter penalties for drug possession, and less users, proportionally, than the US.
    Japan also lacks large scale drug production labs so most drugs need to be shipped in, making drugs very expensive. People don’t have enough money to afford the drugs and they do not wish to face strict legal repercussions from possession. Not to mention Japan is a tight-nit mono culture where “straying from the norm” is considered, for lack of a better term, “blasphemous”, and potential users know that they would be excommunicated if they ever dared to use illegal drugs, this is a further deterant to drug use.

    If all drugs were legalized, with proper education of the populace on safety of drugs, the world would be a much better place.

  • mai nakaharu

    I do not agree with “drugs for fun”. I do, personally, need medical marijuana because I have cancer. But that is a personal thing. And being Asian, I, and a lot of other Asians, are statistically more pre dispositioned for getting cancer (has nothing to do with the current radiation issues there). In that case I do find it a bit odd that they would be so against it medically, since medical care over there is generally nice, but understand the culture is very uptight when it comes to this. My mother is originally from Okinawa. If she knew I had a medical card, even for my cancer, she just would not understand that it is medicine. It is cultural. I agree the need for education for marijuana in Japan would be extremely helpful for people in my situation that live there. But I do not agree it should be recreational. It does help me a lot with my pain, but I would not be using it otherwise. I do believe in forms of holistic medicine but I think marijuana shouldn’t be looked at as more than that. Medicine should not be abused. For this I am happy I live in WA state, where this seems to be more legal than anywhere. But still I see lots of flaws, even with the way the state runs it. But whatever, at least I don’t need to worry about going to prison anymore :)