Proposed THC regulations threaten Japanese CBD industry

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Image of downtown Tokyo skyline with Mount Fuji in background

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Image of Roger Nakazawa
Roger Nakazawa (Courtesy photo)

(This is a contributed guest column. To be considered as an MJBizDaily guest columnist, please submit your request here.)

In late 2023, Japan made its first major amendment to the Cannabis Control Act in 75 years.

This change relaxed regulations for the CBD and hemp industries, sparking hopes for further development and growth.

However, details unveiled in the public comments section of the recent cannabis law revisions have raised significant concerns.

While regulations have been eased around hemp cultivation, THC limits for CBD products and raw materials have been set at an impractically stringent level.

Revised limits might be damaging

The proposed THC limits:

  • Oil: 10 milligrams/kilograms (0.001%)
  • Drink: 0.1 milligrams/kilograms (0.00001%)
  • Others (Edible, Raw Materials, Cosmetics, etc.): 1 milligram/kilogram (0.0001%)

If these limits are implemented as proposed, more than 90% of the products currently on the market will fail to meet the standards, potentially leading to numerous business closures.

According to Tokyo-based Yano Research Institute, the CBD market is expected to reach roughly 83 billion yen ($530.8 million) by 2025, but proposed regulations put the entire industry in jeopardy.

Currently, details of the proposed THC limits and other cannabis-related revisions are open for public comment through a government website until the end of June.

The schedule indicates that the final announcement will be made in July, with the regulations taking effect in October.

Testing, CBD access issues

According to Ryan Bellone, chief commercial officer at Kentucky-based KCA Laboratories, a testing lab registered with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the proposed THC limits are too low.

He points out that factors such as the potential conversion of CBD to THC, contamination, misidentifications and variability between testing labs can create testing problems at such low concentrations.

Such low limits pose unnecessary risks that can ultimately stunt the growth and success of the CBD industry in Japan.

The restrictive THC limits also pose a significant threat to the medical use of CBD and other cannabinoids in Japan.

Currently, the use of these substances for medical purposes is limited, leading many patients to rely on CBD products as supplements.

If the proposed regulations are enforced, many patients who benefit greatly from CBD will find their access to these life-enhancing products severely restricted.

Real-life example

Image of Karen Miyabe
Karen Miyabe’s treatment for refractory epilepsy wasn’t successful until her parents found CBD oil, which ended her seizures. (Courtesy photo)

For example, Karen Miyabe’s treatment for refractory epilepsy wasn’t successful until her parents found CBD oil, which stopped her seizures.

If the proposed THC threshold values are implemented as planned in October, the child’s access to CBD oil  would be in jeopardy, putting her life at risk.

This situation not only endangers the well-being of these patients but also creates a substantial trade barrier with the United States, putting American companies that trade with Japan at risk.

Last year, companies from China, Lithuania, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States participated in CBD Journey & CannaCon 2024 in Tokyo, anticipating regulatory relaxation stemming from Japan’s legal reforms.

Trade with these countries is likely to become more difficult.

Arbitrary THC limits

The backdrop to these regulatory changes coincides with a law establishing penalties for cannabis use, a move that starkly contrasts with global trends toward legalization and decriminalization.

This dual legislative effort appears aimed at ensuring the smooth implementation of the new law and aligning with Japan’s historical stance on THC as an illicit substance.

The Ministry claims the new THC limits are based on international standards, but the government has referenced outdated data from 2018, using figures from the most stringent countries at that time, such as Germany.

Yet Germany has since legalized a limited adult-use cannabis market, meaning these arbitrary figures cannot be considered international standards at all.

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Public support needed

Efforts are underway by advocates and industry stakeholders to lobby politicians and raise public awareness about the detrimental impact of these proposed regulations.

However, these efforts need more support.

We urge those who oppose these changes to exert pressure on the Japanese government to reconsider these restrictive standards.

The future of Japan’s CBD industry hangs in the balance, and actions taken now will determine whether the sector can continue to grow and provide essential benefits to its users or be stifled by impractical regulations.

A group of Japanese hemp and marijuana interests is collecting public comments to influence the Japanese government before its June 30 deadline.

Public comments can be made here.

Roger Nakazawa is the CEO of Asabis, Japan’s largest CBD/hemp community and expo organizer. He can be reached at