Maruyama Gonzalez, a journalist in the dangerous zone, is well known for his work on the popular program “Crazy Journey. In the program broadcast in May this year, he reported on the current situation in California, where marijuana has been legalized, and approached its light and shadow.
The footage shocked the Japanese archipelago, and Mr. Maruyama’s next stop was Nagoya to further investigate the current state of the cannabis industry.
Ltd. is a company that sells edible oils and ointments made from CBD, an ingredient derived from cannabis that is still rare in Japan. Maruyama Gonzalez spoke with the company’s president, Yasutoshi Takano, to learn more about the current state of the cannabis industry in Japan!
Thailand is in a terrible state…!
Maruyama: The Corona disaster has made it difficult for me to go overseas for interviews, and I’ve been living a frustrating life. But now that I have more time to spend in Japan, I’m doing a lot of research on social issues in Japan.
Takano: I’m always interested in your activities. The “Crazy Journey” broadcasted the other day was shocking. After all, footage taken directly in the field is very powerful, isn’t it?
Maruyama：That ‘s right. I’ve been traveling around the world as a journalist for almost 20 years now, and in recent years I’ve noticed a big change. That is the change in the environment surrounding “marijuana. I have been covering California to see this change.
In the past, marijuana tended to be regarded as a “dangerous drug” due to its intoxicating effects, but in recent years, attention has been drawn to the healing properties of marijuana-derived ingredients, such as its relaxing and analgesic effects, and it is being actively used in health and medical products.
For example, in Europe and the United States, food products such as oils and cookies containing cannabis-derived ingredients have become widespread, and a survey shows that one in seven consumers in the United States uses these products in some form. In addition, Thailand legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2006, and it is being applied to the treatment of epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
Globally, there seems to be a growing trend to separate “recreational marijuana with strong intoxicants” from “marijuana products that have almost no psychoactive effects and are useful for health.
Takano: As expected of someone who travels the world, you are very knowledgeable. I was surprised.
Maruyama: Actually, I was planning to cover not only California, but also Thailand’s “cannabis business today. Thailand is looking at the cannabis-related industry as one of the pillars of its economy, and it is said that a 100 billion yen market will be born. I wanted to see the reality of it. The interview plan itself disappeared in Corona (laughs), though.
Takano: I’m sorry to hear that. As you may know, in December of last year, the United Nations made a landmark decision. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs had previously classified marijuana as a “highly dangerous and medically valueless drug,” but as a result of a vote by member countries, it was reclassified as a “drug that has medical usefulness but is highly addictive and requires careful handling.
Although the high dependency of the drug is noted, the recognition of its medical value by international organizations is a significant change. Against the backdrop of this change in recognition by international organizations, discussions and research on “marijuana” have been actively conducted in various countries.
Maruyama：In the U.S., the market is expected to grow to trillions of yen, and I get the impression that there is a lot of discussion about its potential as an industry and business, including research on its harmfulness.
On the other hand, the more I learn about how the world is changing, the more I wonder what the current situation is in Japan. That’s what I wanted to know, and that’s why I came to talk to you today.
Takano: In conclusion, Japan’s “cannabis industry” is being left behind by the rest of the world.
First, for those who are not familiar with marijuana, let me explain the basics.
In Japan, the word “marijuana” conjures up images of dangerous drugs and hallucinations for most people. In fact, when celebrities and artists are arrested for marijuana possession in Japan, it becomes news, and I think it is inevitable that people understand that marijuana is dangerous and illegal.
However, the term “marijuana” cannot be summed up in one word. There are two main components in marijuana: THC, which has an intoxicating effect, and CBD, which has no intoxicating effect and has a relaxing effect.
In Japan, products containing even a small amount of THC, which is intoxicating, cannot be manufactured or sold at all, but CBD, which has a relaxing effect, can be sold and manufactured.
We do sell CBD products, such as edible oils containing CBD and balms for skin problems. These products do not contain any hallucinogenic ingredients, in case you were wondering. They are safe to use.
In addition to our company, the number of companies that sell CBD-derived foods and cosmetics is gradually increasing in Japan, and the number of people who use these products is steadily increasing. However, as I will explain later, the cultivation of cannabis plants in Japan is still strictly restricted and there is a strong social image that cannabis is dangerous, so it is still not widely used.
It has potential as an industry, and its benefits are recognized. While the scope of utilization is expanding in the world, Japan is still in the process of …….
Are the business opportunities endless?
Maruyama：It is not easy to maintain and improve the quality of the plant, so it is even more difficult to spread its products. To be honest, it must have taken a lot of determination to start a “cannabis industry business” in Japan. Why did you decide to start selling CBD products?
Takano：I would like to say that it was because I saw the potential for a business ……, but we are not at the stage of making money yet (laughs).
The main reason I started this business was because I was fascinated by the history of marijuana plants. As I will talk about in more detail later, I believe that cannabis is a plant that has historically been persecuted. The focus was only on the disadvantages, and its benefits were not recognized.
In recent years, however, scientific developments have finally begun to support the benefits of the plant, and it is now known that CBD, as well as THC, has a high level of medical benefits. Therefore, there has been a movement to “liberate” it, mainly in Europe and the United States. …… From this historical perspective, I was attracted to get involved with cannabis plants.
For some reason, among developed countries, Japan has been evasive in discussing cannabis, and CBD products have not been widespread. I felt strongly that since it had benefits and potential as an industry, it should be promoted and that it was worth the challenge.
I felt strongly about this. I was motivated to start this business.
Maruyama：There are women around me who are using cosmetics containing CBD ingredients, and I feel that the understanding of the difference between THC and CBD is gradually spreading. Even so, in Japan, there is a strong allergy to the word “marijuana,” and I strongly feel that discussion and understanding of the issue is not progressing.
When I visited California last year, they finally legalized marijuana for recreational use (intoxicating marijuana), which is banned in many countries, after years of heated debate. Even though this is not the case in Japan, the possibility of a marijuana industry has not even been discussed. Do you think that this trend will change in the future?
Takano: Actually, since the beginning of this year, a committee of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has finally held a full-scale discussion on marijuana. In the report compiled in June of this year, a proposal was made to allow medical marijuana in Japan because of its effectiveness in treating diseases such as epilepsy. This is very groundbreaking, and I hope that the use of cannabis-derived medicines in the medical field will change the public’s image of the word “marijuana.
However, just changing the image is not enough. Even if medical marijuana is used in the medical field, and even if CBD products become more widely available in Japan, if there is no environment for the cultivation of marijuana in Japan, it will end up being just an “imported product” or a “luxury item for some people. Currently, marijuana cultivation in Japan is under very strict control, and there is no prospect of it spreading.
Too high a barrier
Maruyama：Japan has been very negative about the cultivation of marijuana.
Takano： Before World War II, marijuana was a plant that was closely associated with daily life in Japan, used as a raw material for clothing and in Shinto rituals, so there were many farmers who grew marijuana. However, after the war, when the GHQ, alarmed by the spread of the drug, asked the Japanese government to crack down on marijuana cultivation, the cultivation of marijuana came under strict control of the government.
Even today, some farmers are still allowed to grow marijuana because it is essential for Shinto rituals, but there are only 30 or so marijuana farmers today, compared to tens of thousands before the war.
Maruyama: I once interviewed a person involved in research on marijuana cultivation in Tochigi, and he told me that in order to cultivate marijuana, you have to fill out dozens of forms and submit them to the authorities, as well as install fences and surveillance cameras to prevent theft. In addition to being a difficult crop to cultivate in the first place, there are many restrictions. It’s hard to know if it’s worth the cost, and I don’t think many people would want to start a new business.
Takano: You are right. Little by little, I think that the understanding of CBD is spreading in Japan. There are more and more people who are using CBD cosmetics for their relaxation and beauty benefits. In Japan, however, there are restrictions that limit the variety of products available. Eventually, I would like to be able to sell “real cannabis oil,” which is a mixture of THC and CBD, like in Europe and the United States. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Maruyama: It may be difficult to do so under the current situation where many people think that growing marijuana means “growing illegal drugs.
I also heard that in September this year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare issued a notice to prefectures regarding strict regulations such as setting up surveillance cameras and fences in the fields, telling them to relax the regulations beyond reasonable guidance. It is expected that farmers, prefectures, and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will discuss how marijuana cultivation should be handled, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that.
Because we are the “healthiest country”…
Takano: I think that the government should establish firm rules and standards for cultivation and product manufacturing, and devise a system that is absolutely safe. By doing so, it would be possible to grow marijuana in Japan under a certain level of government control, and it would be possible to handle products containing THC ingredients. This is my true intention and ideal.
It’s a genre that is being used overseas and is growing into a major industry, so I wonder why Japan is the only country that is avoiding it for the blanket reason that it’s dangerous.
Maruyama: “If marijuana cultivation spreads, there will always be people who misuse it. There must be a concern that “if marijuana cultivation spreads, there will always be people who abuse it, and dangerous marijuana will be available through black market channels. That is understandable, but I think it is possible to create a system that prevents marijuana from being distributed outside of the control of the government by putting in place a solid production control system. This kind of management is an area of expertise for the Japanese government.
Takano: At the very least, I think we can do something about the fact that we can’t even cultivate cannabis for fiber from seeds, which are completely harmless. I feel strongly about that.
Maruyama：I myself think that the government and administration should seriously consider the possibility of cannabis as an industry once again.
What surprises me when I visit overseas is that the cultivation and distribution of marijuana is very systematic, and it has become a viable agricultural business.
When you hear the word “marijuana cultivation” in Japan, you might think that it is done secretly in a deserted place, but overseas marijuana growers are cultivating marijuana in a factory-like environment with billion-dollar facilities that can control the temperature and humidity.
The reason why they can do this is because marijuana as a crop is very profitable. The owner of one of the marijuana farms I interviewed lived in what looked like the mansion of Tony Stark, the main character in Iron Man (laughs). That’s how profitable it is.
Takano： It seems that there are many stories of people who became marijuana farmers and hit the jackpot.
Maruyama：In countries where CBD products are popular, cannabis cultivation has the potential to become an industry. I really understand this when I cover overseas. Aside from the hallucinogenic cannabis, CBD products have become a part of everyday life and are a viable business. The same goes for cannabis fiber, which is used to make luxury cars and famous brand jeans. This trend is expanding, and some farmers have even said that this is the first new industry since the IT revolution. I thought that was a bit of an exaggeration (laughs).
As you know, Japan is considered by the world to be the healthiest country in the world. If purely Japanese CBD products and foods become commonly manufactured, it could become an attractive export, with many orders coming in from overseas.
In Thailand and other Asian countries, the production of CBD products is in full swing. We are also hearing that China is also considering entering the CBD market in earnest. There is even a possibility that the export of CBD products will become a pillar of industry in these countries. There are even predictions that the “legal marijuana market” in Asia as a whole will be worth no less than 1 trillion yen.
Can Japan afford to be left behind in this industrial competition? Do we really need to run simulations to see how much of an economic impact this will have in Japan?
We should be very careful about the issue of manufacturing and distribution of illegal products, but the viewpoint that “this could become an important industry for Japan” could be considered more seriously.
A message featuring Yokozuna
Takano: I completely agree with you. In Thailand, the use of medical marijuana is progressing, and they are attracting patients from overseas who want to receive treatment.
In Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) is at the center of the discussion on marijuana, but I think that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), for example, should step in and conduct research on the potential of marijuana as an industry. I would like to see a comprehensive discussion based on these studies. To put it bluntly, if after all these discussions, the conclusion is reached that it is difficult to ease the cultivation of marijuana in Japan, then we have no choice. But right now, there is no such discussion.
There is a lot of material to discuss. In fact, overseas studies have shown that marijuana is significantly less harmful than beer and tobacco (Note: The International Commission on Drug Policy, an international NGO, released a report in 2007 that ranked the harmfulness of drugs and alcoholic beverages. http://www. globalcommissionondrugs.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019Report_EN_web.pdf ). Why don’t we present all such studies, data, etc., and then discuss it with the whole nation?
Maruyama: At the very least, I think Japanese people should be more interested in this topic, and as a journalist, I hope to arouse interest by introducing case studies and ideas from overseas.
Takano: Not only me, but there are many people in Japan who are seriously considering the possibilities of cannabis and CBD products.
For example, in Hokkaido, there is an initiative underway to cultivate THC-free cannabis in a special zone. There is even a group of lawmakers in the Hokkaido Diet who are studying the possibilities of industrial hemp, and I am hopeful that this movement will become known and widespread.
At the same time, I myself would like to take various initiatives to promote understanding of the cannabis industry as well as selling CBD products.
Having Ariso Oyakata (Rare-no-Sato) appear in a commercial for our cannabis oil products is part of that. The commercial promotes the fact that Yokozuna’s rope is made from Japanese hemp grass, and we hope that as many people as possible will watch it and learn about the connection between Japanese tradition and hemp.
The reason why I used “Kimigayo” as the background music is because I wanted people to know that Japanese Shinto rituals and marijuana are deeply connected. I hope it will spark a national debate.
A New Attempt
Maruyama：I was surprised by the solemnity of the commercial. “If people who have a preconceived notion that marijuana is dangerous see it, I think their image will change considerably.
One more thing, I heard that Mr. Takano is planning to actively “open up the cultivation areas” of marijuana plants in order to increase public interest. What kind of activities does this entail?
Takano：Yes. In my own way, I’ve been thinking about how to make the general public understand the potential and safety of cannabis cultivation, and I thought that one of the obstacles is that people don’t know what the cultivation areas themselves look like.
When you hear the word “cultivation area” for ordinary vegetables and plants, you probably have some idea of what it looks like, but what about marijuana? But what about marijuana? Most people probably have no idea.
So, we thought it would be a good idea to publish the cultivation areas of marijuana grown in Japan for textile use to promote a better understanding of marijuana cultivation.
Maruyama：When marijuana plants grow, they become incredibly large. It has such a big impact that you can’t forget it once you see it.
Takano： Actually, in principle, marijuana cultivation areas are not allowed to be opened to the public, mainly because of the possibility of theft and misuse.
However, the “fiber marijuana” cultivated in Japan contains almost no THC. Even if it were to be stolen, it would not be misused because it has no intoxicating effects. So there should be no need at all to hide where it is grown and how it is grown. I think that by not showing where it is grown now, the image of “marijuana = evil” is being reinforced.
Since it is not illegal, I think it is okay to show where marijuana is grown. That’s what I’m thinking, and I’d like to show my cultivation area on YouTube and other media.
The impact may be slight, but I think it is necessary to remove even one taboo item first, in order to deepen the discussion about marijuana.
Maruyama: I see. That’s an interesting approach. But aren’t there people who don’t like it because it’s too stimulating?
Takano：Yes. That’s the difficult part. To be honest, even if we all agree that we want to promote the cannabis industry, we may not agree on the details of our ideas and methods. I know that there is criticism of my ideas. I am also aware that some people may criticize my ideas, and I am willing to compensate them in case there is any kind of theft or trespassing due to the openness of the cultivation area. Of course, we are also negotiating with the local media and government offices to see if we can cooperate with them to prevent theft or intrusion.
At any rate, nothing will change the situation surrounding marijuana in Japan if things continue as they are. I hope that you will understand that we have to take some kind of action.
Maruyama: I heard a very stimulating talk today. “But in the case of marijuana, it contains beneficial ingredients, and its use is growing overseas, and it has become a big business.
Should we weigh the disadvantages and focus on banning and regulating it, or should we accept the advantages and steer the direction of spreading it while managing it?
In Japan, at least, there is no doubt that even this debate has not yet been seriously conducted. Regardless of which direction we take, I think we should have that discussion, and I have a renewed desire to provide material for that discussion by informing people about the situation overseas.
Takano: Even if we don’t go as far as Mr. Maruyama, I think it is important to increase the number of people who understand the overall situation, even if it is just one person. I intend to continue the “grassroots movement” just for marijuana.
Courtesy of Meiji Foods Co.