Skip to content

Japanese Cannabis Reform Is Almost Here

Apr. 19, 2024 by SOMAÍ

In November 2023, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) was tasked with developing rules and standards for THC levels in Japanese cannabis products. This motion was the first cannabis reform since the Cannabis Control Act, which has shaped cannabis rules in Japan for 75 years. CBD is already widespread in Japan, so what will change with cannabis reform?

What Will Change With Cannabis Reform In Japan?

The potential new cannabis rules in Japan would apply to medical products, Japanese cannabis cultivation, and THC levels in products. Currently, the Japanese cannabis market allows for CBD with zero THC content. These regulations confine all CBD products to isolate-based products and not full-spectrum extracts. 

The MHLW has already announced it will legalize CBD products that contain traces of THC, as most agree that full-spectrum CBD is more effective than CBD isolate. Japan is widely expected to comply with the international standards of less than 0.3% THC in the final product. With these changes, doctors can prescribe more effective medications, increasing access for the Japanese population.

Will CBD Be A Medicine Or Novel Food Product In Japan?

Another question is whether CBD will be regulated as a medicine or a novel food product. The MHLW appears to be only looking at medical CBD products for now. It seems unlikely that the nearly 150 existing novel food CBD businesses in Japan will be affected by the new rules, but the question remains. 

Minor Cannabinoids In Japan

In fact, with clear rules, the novel foods industry is expected to grow. It may be able to include other non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBN and CBG, as the main issue is not the benefits of cannabis products but the psychoactive attributes of THC. The legalization of other minor cannabinoids in Japan could enable a new level of cannabinoid research and development, creating one of the world’s most advanced CBD and minor cannabinoid markets and drawing attention away from THC. 

Increased Access To Pharmaceutical Cannabis In Japan

Medical producers may benefit significantly, as the new laws may open access to existing FDA-approved drugs like Epidiolex. Ancient Doctors can prescribe some CBD or THC remedies, but there are very few registered products. Enabling access to Epidiolex or other pharmaceutical cannabis products would open prescriptions to general practitioner doctors. However, it is still being determined whether pharmaceutical THC products like Sativex would be accepted under the new rules. 

Medical manufacturers that can prove the highest quality standards, like European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (EU-GMP) certified operators, would be the biggest beneficiaries in the nascent Japanese market. Producers could develop products containing minor cannabinoids, like CBN and CBG, to differentiate the market and usher in a new era of products focused on minor cannabinoids, providing a massive boom to pharmaceutical manufacturers. 

Potential For Japanese Hemp Production

Finally, although lawmakers announced last November that Japan would allow for the cultivation of hemp and high-CBD/low-THC cannabis strains, it remains to be seen whether Japan can be economical in growing and manufacturing CBD. The country would face stiff competition, as many countries already have established infrastructures. However, just as we see with everything else Japan makes, Japan would doubtless grow the best hemp and make the best products if the country puts its mind to it. 

In the long term, Japanese farming communities and pharmaceutical manufacturers could benefit from domestic hemp production, but global cannabis players would be immediately ready to supply Japanese markets with both registered and unregistered medical cannabis products. International CBD brands, novel foods, and pharmaceutical manufacturers would be the most immediate winners as the cannabis industry in Japan becomes more straightforward and regulated under the new laws.

Looking To The Future Of Japanese Medical Cannabis

Hopefully, we will all hear about the MHLW’s proposal by summer 2024 or, at the latest, the end of the year. Japan already has a strong history of supporting the natural world through Shintoism and herbology, so having solid laws supporting the healing attributes of the cannabis plant has a foundation in the country. 

Increased research and development, as well as the growth of the existing CBD market, will positively benefit Japan and create access to medical cannabis for those who need it. Japan is on its way to making its first significant step toward cannabis access with this new law, and I hope there will be room for future improvements as time goes on.