The Japanese government stated yesterday that it will begin introducing an all-inclusive ban on so-called “legal herbs,” substance which are chemically very similar to illegal drugs, yet skirt around the law because they are not meant for human ingestion. The new law is planned to be introduced as soon as February, once the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry sorts through public feedback.
The herbs are mixed with synthetic drugs that are advertised and meant to be used as incense or air fresheners, however, when smoked, they are said to have a similar effect as marijuana or other illegal drugs. Throughout the year, a growing number of young people have been hospitalized and even died after inhaling the substances, believing that they are a “safe” drug. The Health Ministry says it will first label 774 synthetic substances as illegal to import, produce or sell. This is said to be a significant expansion of the current pharmaceutical law, which already covers 90 drugs.
Those caught selling the drug under the new ban can face up to five years in prison, or a maximum fine of 5 million yen (approx. $61,000). Local authorities have had a hard time keeping up with the drugs’ uses and various names, as ingredients and locations where they are sold are known to change rapidly. To combat this, the government plans expand classification over time, to allow police to prevent the narcotics from getting into the hands of Japan’s users.