Man in race against cancer leads Japanese fight for medical use of marijuana

One afternoon earlier this month, Masamitsu Yamamoto showed up at the Tokyo District Court to attend a session of his criminal trial for an alleged violation of the Cannabis Control Law.

The 58-year-old resident of Kanagawa Prefecture, however, does not fit the typical profile of a drug case defendant.

The former restaurant chef has advanced liver cancer and was arrested on suspicion of drug possession last December. He said he had never run into trouble with the law before then, and maintains he used cannabis as a medicine of last resort after exhausting all other options and failing in his attempts to get access to legal cannabis treatment.

“I want to be saved, that’s all,” Yamamoto, dressed in a light blue suit, said after the hearing.

The dapper suit failed to mask the ballooning of his belly, or the buildup of fluid in the abdomen commonly seen among advanced liver cancer patients. Walking with a limp, he relied on a stick for support. “I’ve tried everything else that modern medicine offers.”

Yamamoto’s case is gaining increasing public attention as it sheds light on medical-use cannabis — or unavailability of it — in Japan.

While some European countries, as well as more than 20 states and provinces in the United States and Canada have enacted laws to legalize the medical use of pot, Japan’s 68-year-old cannabis control law impedes its use and efforts to research it.

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