The Legal Status of Cannabis in China | Hemp Use in China

Flag of China from space

China has been growing hemp for thousands of years. In fact, history shows that the first-ever documented use of cannabis for medicinal use was in China. This dates back to 2737 BC when the Chinese Emperor, Sheng Nung, took a cannabis-induced tea to treat different ailments such as malaria, rheumatism, memory loss, and gout. 

The country also has a long history of using hemp plants for building, textile materials, and seed oil. Today, however, the legal status of cannabis in China is sadly different. There is currently a zero-tolerance policy towards cannabis possession or consumption in the country. While the country remains adamant on its cannabis stance, many observers hope that global perceptions of cannabis may soon bring about a paradigm shift in China.

The Current Cannabis Legal Status in China

With the rich history China has with cannabis, especially for medical purposes, one might expect that it would be among the first countries to legalize it. However, the country has a strong law against the use of cannabis. According to the China Criminal Law, cannabis is classified as a narcotic along with heroin, opium, morphine, and cocaine. This designation means the use or possession of any cannabis-made product or food made in the country is illegal, as many Chinese legislators are of the view that allowing cannabis use will lead to the consumption of other drugs that are considered more dangerous.

How China Uses Cannabis

Though the country has kept cannabis circulation under strict regulation, that doesn’t mean it has nothing to do with the compound. In fact, it is one of the largest producers and users of hemp in the world.

Approval of Industrial Hemp Production: A Shift from the Rigid Past

Recently, China has allowed two provinces to cultivate industrial hemp. The approved species contain low concentrations of THC, which is the cannabis compound with psychoactive effects. Heilongjiang, a province in the northeast, and Yunnan, a southwestern province, are the two Chinese regions cultivating the plant. 

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2017, the two regions produced a total of 13.7 tons of cannabis. The produced plants are processed into different materials, including textile fibers, hemp oil, and tasteless white CBD powder.

China: Top Hemp Producer in the World

In 1985, the cultivation of hemp was made illegal in China. However, following public response in 2010, the government allowed cannabis to be grown on an industrial scale making China one of the largest producers in the world today. One of the licensed companies, Hanma Industrial, grew hemp plants on half a million hectares of land. Other companies also accounted for 400,000 hectares.

It is estimated that more than 50% of the global cannabis output is produced in China. Also, out of the current 606 cannabis product patents in the world, Chinese companies hold 309. This shows that while the country cracks down on cannabis use, the Chinese remain top earners from the cannabis boom. 

With the current landscape, China has already positioned itself to continue reaping the economic benefits of cannabis use even with its strict possession laws in place. In many European and American countries, governments leverage the economic benefits of cannabis by opening up the market for public use. In contrast, China doesn’t have to involve itself in the sales and distribution of cannabis to continue reaping from the market. 

Any Efforts Toward Cannabis Decriminalization?

It is difficult to determine how soon cannabis will be decriminalized or legalized in China, or if it ever will be. However, the country has some laws in place that allow its use in certain circumstances. 

Since 2015, hemp leaf extraction can be legally used in Chinese cosmetics and the skincare industry is a big market. Apart from the therapeutic effects, using CBD-related beauty products also helps fight acne, skin whitening, and excessive skin oil. Also, while the Chinese are prohibited from using cannabis-related products, Chinese-made medicines and foods containing CBD are being sold in other countries. China-grown cannabis leaves are sun-dried and processed into powders or CBD oils and then exported to countries like the United States, Europe, and Canada.

Steve Turetsky Responds

Steve Turetsky is the Manager of Shia Farms

I have a huge amount of respect for the industrial hemp companies out there pushing the technology on mechanization of industrial goods from hemp. The issue they are having in the global marketplace is really surrounding the CBD supply chain. Quality concerns have hurt their clout in the international marketplace and most of the CBD supply being transacted is being produced in the US and EU, a stark contrast from the early days (2010-2013) where almost all wholesale CBD Oil/Isolate was coming out of China. 

From what I’ve heard, a big issue is their industrial hemp cultivars are true industrial varieties and not grown for extraction purposes. When you extract a 1-2%CBD biomass you aren’t going to get a high-quality output to purify down the chain. 

Click Here to Watch Steve’s CannaTech Cape Town presentation: The Power of the Plant – A Look at Hemp Genetics

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