By David Burton
Japan is famous for a lot of things–spectacular natural beauty, excellence in the arts and technology and outstanding cuisine, to name a few.
But in 2011, two events–both of which took place in the Japanese port city of Sendai–remind us of things for which the island nation is decidedly infamous.
One is earthquakes. Few places in Japan were hit as hard by the March 2011 temblor and subsequent tsunami as Sendai, home to more than 1 million people and the closest major city to the 9.0 shaker. We still don’t know how many people died in the city and surrounding region because, nine months later, they’re still counting the dead.
The second thing for which Japan is infamous is its anti-marijuana laws. While other democratic nations reconsider the wisdom of pot prohibition, Japan remains firmly in the Reefer Madness camp. Get busted with so much as a tenth of a gram of cannabis, and you’ll find yourself facing a prison term of at least 5 years and fines upwards of 30 million yen (nearly $350,000 U.S.).
Which brings us to the plight of Tim Wilson–a Colorado School of Mines chemical engineering student, registered medical marijuana patient and Exhibit No. 1 for why Japan really needs to re-examine its drug policy: Wilson, 25, was attending Tohoku University in Sendai when, in August, a friend in the U.S. mailed him a package containing books, CDs–and seven pieces of medicated candy. The package was intercepted by Japanese authorities, who promptly arrested Wilson and charged him with enough criminal counts to send him to jail for the next 10 years.
While Wilson’s arrest was hardly surprising given Japan’s aversion to all things marijuana, the timing of it has cannabis activists everywhere shaking their heads in wonder. Just five months after suffering their worst catastrophe since World War II, and even as crews were still digging bodies out of the rubble, Sendai authorities felt threatened enough by the whiff of seven edibles to drop what they were doing and throw Wilson in jail.
Worse, evidence suggests Wilson never asked his friend back home to mail him the candy. His father, Jeff Wilson, showed reporters an email exchange between his son and the friend, in which the latter suggested sending him edibles and Tim replied, “That would be a good idea.”
“That would be a good idea.” Is it just us, or does that sound a lot like Wilson’s sarcastic way of saying, “That would be a really bad idea”? His friend, who remains unidentified, later insisted to reporters that Wilson had no clue that a package containing seven edibles had been shipped to him.
Nevertheless, Japanese authorities are going after Wilson as if he were a drug kingpin and not the 3.98-GPA student who had spent his free time in Sendai aiding in the earthquake recovery effort. Prosecutors have hit him with the strictest charges possible, and are demanding he receive the most severe sentence if convicted. His trial is schedule to begin this month.
By taking such a hard line with Wilson, Japanese authorities are sending a message as undeniable as it is disturbing: Even should the mountains crumble and the seas rise up, nobody–nobody–gets high in the Land of the Rising Sun.
With a Little Help From My Friends
Being famous can help you in Japan if you get caught with cannabis. Back in 1980, Paul McCartney was found carrying nearly half a pound of marijuana in his baggage, just prior to an 11-city tour with his band Wings. Though he faced a potential 7-year sentence, McCartney was released and deported. Years later, Sir Paul would offer this as an excuse regarding why he was carrying that much cannabis: “We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” he said in 2004. “This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”
Article from Culture Magazine and republished with special permission