Weed Is Super Illegal in Japan, but Its Government Is Investing in Weed Stocks

Japan has some of the strictest drug laws in the world.

Here, weed possession can land you up to five years in jail, the same prison sentence you’d get if you were guilty of intermediating child prostitution. Celebrities have had to “retire” from show business on accounts of possession: in September, popular actor Yusuke Iseya was arrested for having 20.3 grams of cannabis in his home—roughly what Snoop Dogg smokes in a day—and has disappeared from public view. 

But despite Japan’s position on cannabis, financial disclosures from the country’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the world’s biggest pension fund, show that it held about $80 million in stakes of weed companies last year, according to Bloomberg.

The GPIF is a top shareholder in Canopy Growth, a publicly-traded Canadian cannabis company, holding a stake worth more than $50 million. Some $17 million was invested in the Cronos Group, a Toronto company that owns pot brands like Spinach and Happy Dance.

The GPIF, which made the disclosures last summer, declined to comment on whether it still owns the stocks, Bloomberg reported. It also said that the fund does not directly pick a stock to buy, but mostly through tracking equity indexes. The $80 million investment makes up 0.005 percent of GPIF’s $1.6 trillion total assets.

Japan’s strict cannabis control has dominated much of the country’s perception of marijuana. Often labelled as a “gateway” drug, weed has not moved past its categorization as highly dangerous despite a global trend to relax regulation and explore its medical use. 

Marijuana JP, a company that compiles marijuana news in Japan, said it’s common for Japanese ministries to “support seemingly contradicting policies.” 

But, a spokesperson for the company said, the investment in cannabis is a “positive thing.”

The inclusion of weed companies in the Japanese pension fund’s portfolio reflects the global rise of the legal marijuana industry. Traditional stock market indices such as the Nasdaq have added more weed growers as more countries have legalized the use of the plant for medical and recreational purposes.

Weed is still illegal in much of Asia and possession alone often carries heavy penalties or lengthy jail time. In 2018, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical marijuana. South Korea legalized medical cannabis in the same year, the first east Asian country to do so.

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