By Jay Alabaster
The Associated Press
TOKYO — Police investigations of marijuana use have surged this year in Japan, the result in part of the easy availability of seeds on the Internet for home cultivation, authorities said Thursday, raising concerns in a country long considered immune from the drug abuse problems of Europe and the United States.
The number of marijuana cases handled by police in the first half of the year rose 12 percent from the same period last year to 1,202, the National Police Agency said in a report. At that rate, the number of cases will reach an all-time high this year, passing the 2,288 recorded in 2006.
While the number is still very low compared to many other countries, it rose more quickly than cases involving amphetamines and other synthetic stimulants, which have long been the most popular illegal drugs in Japan.
Police reported 6,216 stimulant drug cases in the first six months of this year.
A major factor in the jump in marijuana cases was an increase in small-scale growing for private use, said a National Police spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
Japanese law prohibits the growing or possession of marijuana for recreational drug use, but seeds are excluded and are readily available on the Internet. Sites generally state that they are selling the seeds only for research, food or collecting.
There has also been a sharp increase in Japanese books and Internet sites that describe how to grow and prepare marijuana, the police spokesman said.
The police report also said organized crime was involved in some of the increased marijuana cases. Japanese gangsters have long been linked to illegal drugs.
A number of high-profile marijuana cases have recently been featured in the media.
Last month, a government worker was arrested on charges of growing marijuana in a specially equipped room in his home in western Japan. He reportedly told police he mainly used the drug with his wife and had bought his seeds online.
In May, Tokyo customs punished officers who lost track of a package of marijuana resin that had been slipped into a random traveler's luggage to test drug sniffer dogs. The package was recovered the next day.
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Marijuana is frequently grown in Japan for non-drug purposes. Hemp-based fabrics have long been used in traditional clothing. Hemp growing for medical use and research is also allowed with a permit.