My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
A prefectural government official, left, checks documents submitted by a farmer for permission to grow hemp in Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture.
Industrial hemp (see below) has long been used to make sacred ropes that adorn shrines and feature on sumo wrestlers’ ceremonial aprons, but tighter restrictions on cultivation has led to concerns that domestic production could be facing extinction.
Following a spate of cases in which people were found to be illegally possessing cannabis, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in November called on prefectural governments to tighten their screening of applicants seeking licenses to cultivate hemp.
Even Tochigi Prefecture, which produces about 90 percent of domestically grown hemp, has prohibited accepting trainees who aspire to become new farmers of the plant, making it difficult to nurture successors who could sustain the industry. Only about 30 hemp-producing individuals remain in Japan. One industry insider warned, “The guardians of this industry will disappear, and this tradition could come to an end.”
The ministry crackdown was triggered by an incident in October in which a company president and other people in the town of Chizu, Tottori Prefecture, were caught illegally possessing dried hemp for smoking. The president, who had permission from the prefectural government to cultivate hemp, claimed he was “trying to reinvigorate the local economy through a traditional industry” and arranged “tours” in which young people would help cultivate and process hemp grown in his fields. Many participants in these tours were later arrested on suspicion of illegally possessing the product.
Consequently, in December, the prefecture revised a local ordinance to prevent any recurrence and banned all hemp cultivation in Tottori.
In December, Tochigi Prefecture also revised its screening criteria following a notification from the health ministry. The new rules include bans on trainees who aspire to take up farming, and accepting tourists, and obligate operators to notify authorities in advance of accepting assistants to help harvest and process hemp.
Added regulations also empower authorities to refuse to reissue licenses, depending on the severity of any violations by a grower.
Hemp grows quickly, and some farms require at least 10 assistants to cope with the surge in work at harvest time. Applications for permission, which must be renewed each year, are submitted in January, and approvals start to be issued in February. Prefectural officials confirm each time whether people brought in as assistants have any intention of taking up farming.
The scale of domestic hemp production has continued to decline due to the spread of foreign-grown hemp and synthetic fibers. In 2015, just 7.6 hectares of land was used for growing hemp in Japan, barely 0.15 percent of the about 5,000 hectares in the peak year of 1952 (after the Cannabis Control Law was passed in 1948). Just 34 hemp-producing individuals remain in business.
Even Tochigi Prefecture, the nation’s largest grower of hemp, is in a critical situation. It had about 6,000 producers in the 1960s, fewer than 100 in 1994, and in the past five years the figure has dipped below 20.
Momidiya, a wholesaler in Tochigi city that provides hemp products to shrines across Japan, was so alarmed by the decline in producers that two years ago it started learning cultivation methods from farmers in preparation for growing its own hemp. However, that plan has been derailed by the tightened regulations. “We mustn’t let foreign-grown hemp be used for the shimenawa ropes at Ise Jingu and Nikko Toshogu,” Momidiya President Masato Usui said.
Koki Ban, chairman of a liaison council for the promotion of hemp in Tochigi Prefecture, said: “Mastering refined techniques is the only way to make beautiful, durable material. Hemp production will probably disappear before long.”
The prefectural government, however, insists the tighter rules are intended to actually help the farmers.
“We understand the importance of continuing traditional industries,” an official from the government’s pharmaceutical affairs section said. “Tightening the rules to ensure incidents involving illegal possession don’t occur will help to protect the farmers.”
■ Industrial hemp
Fiber extracted from the stalk of hemp plants is used as a material for clothing and other items. The seed is used in foods including shichimi togarashi, a seven-flavor spice mixture. Linen and similar materials to hemp are also often used to make suits, shirts and other clothing articles. The rope belt yokozuna Kisenosato wore during a ring-entrance ceremony in January was made from hemp given by a farm in Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture. The cultivation of hemp requires permission from a prefectural government, based on the Cannabis Control Law.Speech