Media Mix, Nov. 6, 2016

marijuanaHere’s this week’s Media Mix about the Japanese media’s demonization of marijuana as its profile improves throughout the world due to medical applications. Though the column mostly addresses the legal problems that marijuana faces in Japan, the economic angle is worth discussing. The main point of Hiroyuki Arai’s Diet speech about marijuana in May was that its re-regulation for medical use could save the government a huge amount of money because it is so cheap to grow and distribute, whether it’s used to combat depression or alleviate the side effects of cancer treatments. At the moment, the LDP is desperately searching for ways to bring down the country’s skyrocketing health care costs, but the fear of pot as a “dangerous drug” is too overwhelming. Or is it? Could it actually be that certain parties have vested interests that would be undermined by decriminalizing marijuana, such as the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a supposition that can’t be discounted, but it should be noted that Otsuka Pharmaceutical is already working on a product overseas that uses active ingredients in marijuana as a palliative treatment. In fact, Masamitsu Yamamoto, the late liver cancer sufferer who was arrested for growing marijuana for his own use, went to Otsuka to ask if he could be granted an experimental license to use the product, but they told him it was against the law—in Japan. So in this case there is a Japanese company that is already taking advantage of relaxed marijuana laws abroad–it doesn’t make sense that they would oppose decriminalization here. In any case, the media refused to cover Yamamoto’s case, which he himself fought as a human rights issue. Though human rights get a lot of lip service in the Japanese media, they lose out in the argument if the other side cites “the greater public good,” which seems to be easier to advocate in the marijuana debate. Despite the popularity of movies like The Pineapple Express, the general public has been conditioned to view marijuana as akin to heroin and cocaine in terms of addictive, crazy-making properties, and so they don’t say anything one way or the other. Unlike in the U.S. and Europe, there is no underground bedrock of casual users, past or present, who are predisposed to support legalization. As one Japanese woman who lives in California and uses medical marijuana to relieve her depression put it on her blog, there are lots of Japanese people who are curious about pot, but they can’t even talk about it on social media because they think they’ll be arrested just for writing about it. The propaganda is that effective.

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