Pubdate: Wed, 4 Feb 2009
Source: Asahi Shimbun (Japan)
Copyright: 2009 Asahi Shimbun
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


Less than six months after three Russian sumo wrestlers were banished
from the sport in a marijuana scandal, Wakakirin, a Japanese citizen
and juryo second division wrestler, was arrested on suspicion of
marijuana possession last week and expelled from the sport Monday.

The initial surprise felt by many people--that the sumo world was hit
by yet another drug-related scandal--must have quickly turned into a
disgusted sense of deja vu.

At the time of a spot test last September, Wakakirin's test results
were inconclusive. Two further checks followed, but although he tested
negative both times, he was still in the gray zone. Given that he was
in possession of as much as 16 grams of cannabis at the time of his
arrest, he is suspected of having been a habitual user.

Having once wrestled in the makuuchi top division, Wakakirin is no
naive youngster. We are appalled by his utter folly, but the Japan
Sumo Association's responsibility is also grave. In response to drug
and other scandals, the association created a preventive committee and
brought in outsiders, such as former police officials, as executive
directors. But the setup has obviously failed to function.

A British tabloid recently published a photo showing U.S. swimmer
Michael Phelps, the winner of eight gold medals at the Beijing
Olympics, inhaling from a marijuana pipe. Phelps has since apologized
for his "regrettable" behavior.

Although athletes take greater care of their health than most people,
the fact that marijuana use is so widespread among them must be due to
their misconception of pot as less harmful than tobacco.

According to the World Health Organization, cannabis affects the brain
and impairs memory and learning capabilities. It also affects space
recognition, which could cause accidents. Heavy users might develop
anti-motivational syndrome, a form of mental impairment that causes
chronic apathy and loss of drive.

Marijuana's effects are milder than those of some stimulants and hard
drugs, but marijuana can induce psychological dependency.

Banned substances, including cannabis, are believed to act on the
brain's "reward center" that produces the sense of satisfaction felt
when one achieves something. In short, they act on what could be
called the source of human vitality and induce psychological
dependency and other problems. This is what is frightening about
banned substances.

Simple comparisons cannot be made with tobacco and alcohol, which can
also cause considerable health damage. Each must be seen as a
distinctive health hazard.

The fact that cannabis can be bought at cafes in Holland, for
instance, may make people underrate its danger. But the transactions
are still illegal, and are only being overlooked by authorities. In
the United States and Europe, where marijuana use is widespread,
authorities are unable to control it sufficiently because they are too
busy cracking down on harder and more harmful drugs.

A whopping 46 percent of Americans are said to experience banned
substances of one kind or another during their lifetime. The figure
exceeds 20 percent in many European countries. In Japan, it's only 2.9

Surely we don't need to try to catch up with the West in drug use. Our
incipient "cannabis pollution" must be contained at all costs.

Last year, 2,521 people were caught in marijuana-related crimes in
Japan by the end of November, exceeding the previous record of 2,288
set in 2006. More than 60 percent of them were in their teens and 20s,
including many university students.

Some young people casually try pot. It is vital that we educate them
on the risks of this drug from a fairly young age.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake