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Head of cannabis-growing business arrested for illegal possession

The head of a business legally growing and creating hemp products from cannabis has been arrested for possession of marijuana with the intention to use the drug, it was learned from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

    The Chugoku-Shikoku Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare's narcotics control division arrested Toshihiko Ueno, 37, representative of hemp product seller Hachijuhachiya, and two employees on suspicion of violating the Cannabis Control Act by possessing marijuana.

    The arrests mark the first time that a cannabis grower operating with permission from a municipal government has been arrested for violation of the act. According to the ministry, Ueno allegedly was in possession of 88 grams of dried marijuana at his home in Chizu, Tottori Prefecture, on Oct. 4. He has reportedly admitted to the allegations, saying, "I received it from someone and was using it."

    The cannabis grown by Ueno's company is a type with a low narcotic content, and investigators at the narcotics control division believe Ueno acquired marijuana from another source to use as a drug.

    According to sources including the Tottori Prefectural Government and the Chizu Municipal Government, Ueno moved to the Chizu area a few years ago. Before World War II Chizu was the site of extensive cannabis growing, and Ueno pushed for making hemp goods into a local specialty product. In 2013 he acquired permission from the prefectural government and began growing the plant. His company's cannabis-using products -- such as gunny sacks and miso -- attracted attention, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie even visited the company's fields.

    In 1999, the then Ministry of Health and Welfare indicated that if there is judged to be no societal benefit, a prefectural governor may refuse an applicant permission to grow cannabis. Following the arrests, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare intends to instruct prefectural governments to make their permission screenings tougher.

    The Cannabis Control Act forbids possession or exchange of marijuana. Growing cannabis requires permission from a prefectural governor. Growers can unintentionally inhale from marijuana, so there is no punishment for use. In 1954 there were around 37,000 legal cannabis growers in Japan, but as of the end of 2014 the number was down to only 33.

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