Japan Tightens Restrictions on “Loophole Drugs”

By Paul Gaita 07/09/14

Despite having some of the strictest drug laws in the world, Japan has seen a rise in the use of synthetic drugs.

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A recent spate of traffic accidents involving drivers under the influence of synthetic drugs, including one fatality, has spurred the Japanese government to tighten restrictions on the substances.

The country already has some of the strictest drug laws in the world, but synthetic drugs, known as “loophole drugs,” contain modified chemical compounds that keep them outside of substance-control laws. To combat this issue, Japan will issue newer and tougher regulations regarding the possession and use of synthetic drugs, as well as harsher sentencing for crimes associated with their use.

The new measures are the government’s latest effort to reduce the rise in incidents involving the drug—from eight in 2008 to 125 in 2013—as well as the relative ease in obtaining the substances, especially by teenagers. In 2012, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare added more than 750 brands of synthetic cannabis to a list of some 90 varieties of narcotics that were banned in previous years.

The Ministry of Health has also asked for submissions for a new name for synthetic drugs to replace the “loophole drug” term. Applicants can submit their suggestions by postcard or email, with the caveat that the term must be easily understood by a wide demographic and adhere to standards of “public order and decency.” The word “haabu,” or herb, which was initially used to describe the substances, is also not allowed.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.