Japan to legalize medical cannabis

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The Japanese government is set to allow the medical use of cannabis to treat patients with incurable diseases, according to outlines of the bills revealed last week in Japanese media.

The Japanese government plans to submit several bills, including one to revise the cannabis control law, during the current session of the Diet, Japan’s legislature.

The first intentions of legalizing medical cannabis in Japan only concerned the authorization of Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical CBD oil prescribed for childhood epilepsy refractory to usual treatments. In December 2022, Epidiolex also entered phase III of a clinical trial with 84 participants, in order to test the efficacy and safety of the drug.

Epidiolex has been approved by the US FDA and European health authorities.

The proposed revision would also criminalize the recreational use of cannabis, which is not criminalized today under an original provision of the Cannabis Control Act that did not punish consumption in order to protect growers from hemp who could involuntarily inhale psychoactive substances from the crop. The possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes is illegal, however.

By cracking down on the recreational use of cannabis, the Japanese government wants to prevent its growing use among young people.

CBD, a market of hope

In parallel with this medical reform, the CBD market is developing rapidly, with a turnover of around €120 million in 2022.

Currently, products containing CBD, extracted and manufactured only from the mature stems and seeds of the cannabis plant, do not fall into the legal category of cannabis, and therefore can be manufactured and sold in Japan.

When importing CBD products, the importer must nevertheless prove that they do not contain THC and that they are extracted only from the stem and the cultivated seeds. Moving from regulations based on plant parts to regulations based on extract composition would immediately widen the potential gateway for CBD imports and provide new market opportunities.

While CBD oils are the most popular formats of healthy forms of CBD consumption, vaping is the most popular format in Japan. Their popularity is attributed to Japanese e-cigarette regulations, where vapes containing nicotine are prohibited by law. Liquids containing CBD provide the sensation of vapor inhalation without prohibited ingredients.

Topicals are also good entry products in Japan, as Japan has a massive skincare market.

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