Media Mix, Feb. 7, 2021

Toshihiko Matsumoto

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the government’s push to enact penalties for consuming marijuana. As pointed out in the BuzzFeed interview with Toshihiko Matsumoto, an addiction therapist who is the media go-to guy whenever they need someone to talk about illegal drugs, marijuana laws in Japan are mostly about giving the police and bureaucratic entities something to do. Matsumoto tends to veer toward the cautious side in the debate about marijuana, but here he clearly advocates for more discussion about the possible medical benefits of weed, especially in the treatment of epilepsy. Of course, that’s never going to happen in Japan until the relevant organs can conduct tests, and as long as the Cannabis Control Law remains in place testing will always be forbidden. But what’s mainly interesting about the interview is Matsumoto’s opinions about the perceived harmful effects of the drug. As a person whose job is to help people get over addictions, whether it be drugs, alcohol, or gambling, he has probably more insight than anyone else in Japan as to the main reason given by the authorities for banning pot. He doesn’t deny that marijuana could be harmful, but he tends to think that criminalizing its use is counter-productive, a view that has become increasingly accepted elsewhere in the world. He finds it unfortunate that tax money is spent on investigations into drug possession and usage rather than on treatment and preventing recidivism for former addicts, but in saying so he also reveals that marijuana could be a valuable tool in getting people off other, more dangerous drugs. He theorizes that the popularity of so-called kiken (dangerous) drugs, meaning psychotropic substances that used to be quasi-legal, like mushrooms, grew as more Japanese people experimented with marijuana when they went overseas. And now that these drugs have become completely illegal, he sees more people actually going to the U.S., where marijuana has become legal in many states, for the express purpose of consuming it. Though this sounds like classic compulsive behavior, the kind of thing you would expect from someone with an addictive personality, Matsumoto doesn’t view it that way. In fact, he says that some of his patients who were hooked on kiken drugs “improved” when they switched to marijuana, though he doesn’t elaborate. He also observes that people who “like marijuana” tend to be “high spirited,” meaning they don’t manifest the kind of negative social tendencies common among addictive personalities. He also believes that the stricter law is politically motivated. The police became nervous when the UN last year changed its designation for marijuana so as to recognize its medicinal benefits, which is one reason why the police want to stiffen the law in Japan. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is OK with that, though Matsumoto thinks if Shinzo Abe were still prime minister it would have been more difficult because his wife has been quietly advocating for relaxation of regulations to make marijuana acceptable for medical use in Japan. When Akie Abe was photographed frolicking in a hemp field, a lot of media joked about it, but she’s probably the best friend Japanese potheads have. 

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