Japan managed to win its war on drugs. Why can't we?

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Mikah
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11 Feb 2019, 5:11 am

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/02/j ... nt-we/amp/

Walking along Tottenham Court Road on a recent, rare, trip to London I was struck by a sweet, pungent odour, which I couldn’t immediately identify. The answer arrived moments later while cutting through a dark Dickensian alley en route to Oxford Street.

My way was blocked by a group of wild-eyed, ragged looking men, all smoking marijuana. It was like a scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, except genuinely scary. The men were staring at me as if I were a trespasser. Concluding that proceeding with my shortcut was probably unwise; I turned on my heels and took the long way round.

The reason I had forgotten that distinctive aroma is simple: I’ve lived in Tokyo for the last 20 years. In all that time I don’t think I have ever smelt marijuana, even in my earlier more socially active days in the grungier parts of Roppongi or Shinjuku. And I have never felt afraid walking around the city. Not once.

Attitudes in the UK and Japan to drugs seem to come from different centuries. In Britain it seems we have accepted the smoking of cannabis, even openly in our town centres, as a fact of life. In Japan, drug use is minimal, and on a public street, unimaginable. In the UK there is a noisy and growing lobby calling for full legalisation of cannabis; in Japan it’s not an issue.

On the BBC’s The Big Questions recently journalist Peter Hitchens cited Japan and South Korea as two examples of countries where strict application of drug laws has resulted in the near eradication of usage. His comparison was airily dismissed by Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, with the following: ‘South Korea and Japan have very culturally different histories to ours’.

I wonder how much Godlee knows about the cultural history of Japan, but she’s not entirely wrong. Japan has a deep relationship with cannabis cultivation going back to prehistoric times – very different indeed from the UK. It was employed for centuries in the manufacture of hemp, used for clothing, ropes, fishing lines and bowstrings. The leaves were also used as offerings in Shinto ceremonies. There were, until the 1950s, at least 25,000 cannabis farms in Japan.

But perhaps Godlee meant that the Japanese are ‘culturally’ less tolerant of illicit or harmful substances. In this she is most certainly wrong. Apart from cannabis, which almost certainly used to be smoked widely, there was an amphetamine abuse problem of epidemic proportions in post-war Japan, and Mad Men levels of drinking and smoking persist in the corporate world today.

The primary reason for the scarcity of cannabis users in Japan is that scarily strict laws, introduced by the US with the 1948 Cannabis Control Act, are stringently applied and sentencing is harsh and consistent. While in the UK you are highly unlikely, as the gentlemen in the alley surely realised, to face any sanction for brazenly defying the law, in Japan you will be punished severely even for the possession of small amounts of weed: six months if you’re lucky, five years if you’re not.

Not only that, but the stigma attached to a drugs conviction means that you have little chance of rebuilding your life afterwards. And that applies to everyone: the actor Ryo Hashizume is one of a number of celebrities whose careers have been derailed by drugs; after he was arrested for possession in 2017 his new film was shown with his scenes deleted, a la Kevin Spacey. Japan is as unforgiving of drug takers as we are of sex offenders.

Underpinning this approach is a fundamental difference in attitude to crime. The Japanese still see criminality as a question of individual morality, not the result of disadvantaged circumstances. Society is emphatically not to blame. This is especially true of drugs, and is revealed in the language used to describe ex-offenders: kosei (‘corrected’, after receiving strict punishment), rather than kaifuku (‘recovered’, as if from an illness).

This may seem harsh, unsophisticated, or even backward, but it is also very effective. The vast majority of young people grow up with no experience or knowledge of drugs, their faculties remain intact, and their families, friends and neighbours live unaffected by the consequences of drug abusers in their midst. And people can walk the streets without fear – any street, at any time.

Meanwhile in the UK not only have we stopped noticing the reek of marijuana on our streets, we are becoming increasingly inured to the heartbreaking stories of random violence committed by wild-eyed, ragged, marijuana addled psychotics on wholly innocent bystanders. See Peter Hitchens’ blog for innumerable examples.

I ended my London walk that day at Foyles and couldn’t help noticing the number of Japanese lifestyle books on display, Marie Kondo, inevitably, prominent among them. We seem to have an insatiable appetite for Japanese wisdom, whether it is de-cluttering, forest bathing, origami, or even bonsai. But there is a lot more to be learned from Japan than how to fold T-shirts or prune rose bushes, especially when it comes to our own attitude to drugs laws.


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cemil
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11 Feb 2019, 5:21 am

race.. its biological .



Mikah
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11 Feb 2019, 5:48 am

cemil wrote:
race.. its biological .


Trying to get banned are we? Japan has historically had much greater drug problems than the West has ever had. The answer to winning the drug war is actually trying to fight it in the first place. After actually enforcing (which we don't) draconian laws against drug usage, miraculously drug usage has fallen in Japan and is now almost non-existent.


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magz
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11 Feb 2019, 6:06 am

There is a racial issue with alcohol - East Asians typically produce way less alcohol dehydrogenase than Europeans, resulting in less capacity for alcohol consumption. They get drunk easier and they have worse hangovers.
But I know of nothing similar about marijuana.

I was in Netherlands where it has been legal for quite a while, and I didn't come into any situation similar to description.
I also thougth - would it be any different if those guys weren't smoking weed but drinking booze instead?

No, in my opinion the problem is not about the substance.


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Mikah
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11 Feb 2019, 6:17 am

magz wrote:
I was in Netherlands where it has been legal for quite a while, and I didn't come into any situation similar to description.


People struggle to understand this, but the UK is much further down the path of liberalisation of cannabis than the Netherlands. There are strong laws on the books, yes, but they are almost totally unenforced.


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magz
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11 Feb 2019, 6:39 am

Mikah wrote:
magz wrote:
I was in Netherlands where it has been legal for quite a while, and I didn't come into any situation similar to description.


People struggle to understand this, but the UK is much further down the path of liberalisation of cannabis than the Netherlands. There are strong laws on the books, yes, but they are almost totally unenforced.

I've been wondering about the Netherlands for a while... They were first to legalize marijuana and prostitution but when I was walking down residential areas, I saw very calm, family-friendly life. Amsterdam is full of colorful immigrants who work and integrate into the society.
Hey, Dutch people, how do you do it? Let us learn!


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11 Feb 2019, 6:48 am

we are becoming increasingly inured to the heartbreaking stories of random violence committed by wild-eyed, ragged, marijuana addled psychotics on wholly innocent bystanders

An interesting article, though sections like the bit above don't help IMO.

As the article says, people in the UK are fairly laid back about cannabis. You smell it all the time walking through towns and cities, people stop being bothered about that years ago.

I remember reading about the cannabis cafe that opened in Stockport around 2000ish. It was closed down after a while but there was no rush. No one cared tbh.



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11 Feb 2019, 6:52 am

magz wrote:
Mikah wrote:
magz wrote:
I was in Netherlands where it has been legal for quite a while, and I didn't come into any situation similar to description.


People struggle to understand this, but the UK is much further down the path of liberalisation of cannabis than the Netherlands. There are strong laws on the books, yes, but they are almost totally unenforced.

I've been wondering about the Netherlands for a while... They were first to legalize marijuana and prostitution but when I was walking down residential areas, I saw very calm, family-friendly life. Amsterdam is full of colorful immigrants who work and integrate into the society.
Hey, Dutch people, how do you do it? Let us learn!


I don't think they did legalise marijuana did they? I thought It was just decriminalised and they had a liberal attitude towards it.



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11 Feb 2019, 6:53 am

Yes, the Japanese have an admirable attitude towards drugs, as towards almost everything else. The reason cannabis is so effectively controlled over there and not over here is that

1. Since the sixties, any claim as to the existence of a socially binding moral code has been debunked as "oppressive" - or some such tripe.
2. Governments in the west, being controlled by big business, don't want to crack down on drugs - particularly cannabis - because there's so much money to be made out of them.

I completely agree that possession of any amount of cannabis should result in criminal charges.



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11 Feb 2019, 6:59 am

Biscuitman wrote:
I don't think they did legalise marijuana did they? I thought It was just decriminalised and they had a liberal attitude towards it.

It's more complex afaik... but you can buy it legally.


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11 Feb 2019, 7:03 am

Prometheus18 wrote:
I completely agree that possession of any amount of cannabis should result in criminal charges.

I completely disagree.
Let's learn from American Prohibition. Illegal but socially accepted activities are the best for mafia.


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11 Feb 2019, 7:06 am

America is gripped in the throes of an intractable opioid crisis.
The world's largest producer of opium for the past 17 years has been under American military occupation for the past 18 years.
Perhaps winning the 'war on drugs' was never the real objective.

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
John Ehrlichman



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11 Feb 2019, 7:12 am

Biscuitman wrote:
we are becoming increasingly inured to the heartbreaking stories of random violence committed by wild-eyed, ragged, marijuana addled psychotics on wholly innocent bystanders

An interesting article, though sections like the bit above don't help IMO.


It's not entirely crazy. This is a site that has collected a few hundred news stories from the UK that at the very least contradicts the idea that cannabis is a peaceable drug and postulates a link between heavy cannabis usage and insane violence.

Anyone concerned about school shootings might want to investigate a drugs link before blaming guns.


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11 Feb 2019, 7:19 am

Mikah wrote:
Biscuitman wrote:
we are becoming increasingly inured to the heartbreaking stories of random violence committed by wild-eyed, ragged, marijuana addled psychotics on wholly innocent bystanders

An interesting article, though sections like the bit above don't help IMO.


It's not entirely crazy. This is a site that has collected a few hundred news stories from the UK that at the very least contradicts the idea that cannabis is a peaceable drug and postulates a link between heavy cannabis usage and insane violence.

Image
Are they violent because of cannabis?
Or maybe they are violent because they are lowlifes and they take illegal drugs because of the same reason?

The countries experimenting with decriminalization and legalization don't get sudden increase in violence.

Maybe UK has some much deeper social issues with drugs being only one of the the most superficial layers?


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11 Feb 2019, 7:21 am

magz wrote:
Prometheus18 wrote:
I completely agree that possession of any amount of cannabis should result in criminal charges.

I completely disagree.


also disagree.

I am not a cannabis user but I think it should be legalised here.