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Hong Kong Goes Backwards On CBD Policy

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Hong Kong is planning on banning all cannabidiol (CBD) products, with the ban expected to go into effect in 2023. Will banning CBD really work?

John Lee, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said on Saturday, September 17, that the government will specifically outlaw CBD next year. Speaking as the opening speaker of an anti-drug event, Lee said that the HKSAR is ramping up its effort to “control drugs.” He also spoke of previous drug interdiction efforts by law enforcement agencies.

According to Lee, cannabis is a drug – and more worryingly, used by half of “drug abusers” in the country.

Last year, in 2021, the number of criminal cases related to cannabis rose by 15% and the amount of tonnage seized increased 150%. The number of reported “drug abusers” in Hong Kong halved in the last decade, dropping to 6,000 last year.

Hong Kong Moving with China

While drug use has always been harshly punished in Hong Kong, like the rest of Asia, the move to ban CBD is a bit of a surprise move. Possession of high THC plants and products can lead to a prison term of up to 7 years and a $125,000 fine. Drug trafficking can land the accused in prison for life.

It is more than likely that the HKSAR is following a Chinese mandate as the country comes directly under China’s rule.

Ironically, China is the world’s largest producer of hemp, although unauthorized cultivation and even seed possession can still lead to harsh punishment.

Marching Left (When the Rest of the World Is Going Right?)

It is unclear when and how cannabis reform will come to both China and Hong Kong. It is not as if there is no cannabis industry in this region of the world. Indeed, beyond hemp production, China is the largest global manufacturer (and exporter) of LED lighting used in commercial and indoor cultivation.

Thailand currently leads the region in progressing on cannabis reform, and even here there has been a controversy as the loosening of drug laws and restrictions has led to a boom in unauthorized production and sale, beyond strict medical use.

Other countries, such as Malaysia, are also studying the Thai example intently, and may move to legalize at least medical use next year.

For this reason, while China and now Hong Kong hold out as bastions of strict cannarepression, it is unlikely that other countries in the region will follow suit. This, no matter the backsliding in Hong Kong, is likely to drive the conversation forward, no matter the backlash that is, by its very nature and timing, is sure to be short lived.

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