Hong Kong will ban cannabidiol (CBD) starting Wednesday, categorizing it a “dangerous drug” and mandating harsh penalties for its importation, production and possession, customs authorities said yesterday.
Supporters have said that CBD treats a range of ailments including anxiety and that, unlike its more famous cousin, THC — which is already illegal in Hong Kong — CBD does not get users high.
Derived from the cannabis plant, CBD was previously legal in Hong Kong, where bars and shops sold products containing it.
However, Hong Kong authorities last year prohibited the substance — a change that is to take effect next week.
Residents were given three months from Oct. 27 to dispose of their CBD products in special boxes set up around the territory.
“Starting from February 1, cannabidiol, aka CBD, will be regarded as a dangerous drug and will be supervised and managed by the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance,” Hong Kong senior intelligence analyst Au-Yeung Ka-lun (歐陽嘉倫) said at a news conference.
“As of then, transporting CBD for sale, including import and export, as well as producing, possessing and consuming CBD, will be illegal,” Au-Yeung said.
Penalties include up to life in prison and HK$5 million (US$638,579) in fines for importing, exporting or producing CBD.
Possession of the substance can result in a sentence of up to seven years and HK$1 million in fines.
In announcing the ban last year, the Hong Kong government cited the difficulty of isolating pure CBD from cannabis, the possibility of contamination with THC during the production process and the relative ease by which CBD can be converted to THC.
“We will tackle all kinds of dangerous drugs from all angles and all ends, and the intelligence-led enforcement action is our major goal,” Hong Kong Airport Command divisional commander Chan Kai-ho told reporters yesterday.
Despite the harsh penalties mandated, Chan said authorities would handle enforcement on a case-by-case basis and “seek legal advice from our Department of Justice to determine what the further actions will be.”
Hong Kong maintains several categories of “dangerous drugs,” which include “hard drugs” such as heroin and cocaine, as well as cannabis.
Hong Kong’s first CBD cafe opened in 2020, and the ban would force scores of businesses to remove CBD-infused candies, drinks and other products, or shut down altogether.
The ban is in keeping with a zero tolerance policy toward recreational drugs in Hong Kong and mainland China, where CBD was banned last year.
Chinese authorities have waged battles against heroin and methamphetamines, particularly in southwest areas bordering on the drug-producing Golden Triangle region spanning parts of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Criminal penalties for sale and usage are also enforced for cannabis.
In one of the most high-profile cases, Jaycee Chan (房祖名), the son of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan (成龍), served a six-month sentence in 2014 and 2015 for allowing people to consume cannabis in his Beijing apartment.
At the same time, China has been a main source of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of the dangerous drug fentanyl, a trade often facilitated through social media.
A wealthy Asian financial center with a thriving commercial port and major international airport, Hong Kong is a key point of entry to China as well as a market for some drugs, especially cocaine.
Police recently seized hundreds of kilograms of the drug, some of it hidden in a shipment of chicken feet from Brazil.
Most Asian nations maintain strict drug laws and enforce harsh penalties for violators, including the death penalty, with the exception of Thailand, which made it legal to cultivate and possess cannabis last year.
Debate over CBD policy continues in many countries and regions.
Cannabis-derived products have become increasingly popular in lotions, tinctures and foods.
While their legal status has been murky in the US, several US states and other countries have legalized or decriminalized such substances.
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