A new law criminalizing the possession, use, and sale of cannabidiol (CBD) in Hong Kong has been in full force since its effectuation across the concrete jungle on Wednesday, February 1. Now classified on par with heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, CBD has been stripped from the shelves of numerous cafes and breweries after experiencing an initial boom among people living in the major global financial center.
CBD, a non-psychotropic derivative of the cannabis plant, is praised by medical cannabis consumers worldwide for its ability to ease pain, anxiety, stress, and inflammation. It has also been shown to harbor neurological protective effects. Despite a growing body of research, Hong Kong authorities say those claims “lack authoritative scientific proof.”
Following initial uproar from entrepreneurs, CBD consumers, and advocates, Hong Kong authorities justified their ban by saying that CBD-enriched products could be converted into the mind-altering substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which was outlawed before CBD came into the picture.
While some Southeast Asian governments have legalized or at least shifted their focus toward cannabis decriminalization, including Thailand, cannabis is still outlawed in most countries. This is also true for other countries around the world, with cannabis-related crimes usually punishable by hefty prison sentences.
Getting involved in cannabis-related activities will not end well if you are in Hong Kong. Fines of up to HK$5 million ($638,000) and life imprisonment are common penalties faced by people who are caught exporting, importing, or producing CBD. The cannabinoid is forbidden in Chinese territory, along with 200 other drugs that are deemed “dangerous.”
Even if you’re only caught possessing or consuming cannabis in Hong Kong, you won’t be let off lightly. Standard penalties for such offenses include a HK$1 million ($128,000) fine and a potential seven-year stint in prison. After receiving instructions from local authorities to scrap any contraband ahead of the law’s implementation, residents had disposed of tens of thousands of items (77,400 to be exact) as of January 29,
Business owners and residents were granted a total of three months to get rid of their contraband. Consumers simply cannot ignore the warnings, with Customs Officials publishing full-page newspaper advertisements reading things like, “Anything with CBD? No way!”
Hong Kong’s CBD fairytale has been thrown in the trash. Previously, the cannabinoid was being brazenly added to skincare products, drinks, and edible items all over the city, but it’s quite a different story for consumers and business owners now, including the owners of HK Brewcraft.
“We had to stop selling a best-selling beer, and we still get customers calling to ask about the product daily,” said co-founder of the HK Brewcraft store, Chris Wong.
Just a few months before the new regulations were imposed, it was possible for anyone to walk inside specialty cafes and bars like HK Brewcraft to have their morning coffee or evening pint spruced up with a few drops of CBD oil.
“It feels like a bit of a step backward for HK,” Luke Yardley, the company’s founder, told AFP.
Some other CBD cafes that claimed media coverage in the recession-struck financial hub before they had to shut up shop or completely transform their agenda included Found, Coffee Analog, Elixir, and Drip39.
Despite the strict laws in Hong Kong and mainland China, where CBD has been banned since 2021, a handful of SE Asian countries have made efforts to legalize the cannabinoid. For example, Thailand legalized medical cannabis in 2018 and even went down the route of decriminalization in June of 2022.
Then there’s South Korea, where the use of certain medical cannabis products, like CBD, was permitted in 2018. However, the Republic of Korea (ROK) imposes strict protections pertaining to CBD use, including an application process that requires prospective consumers to submit relevant prescriptions and medical records.
In Japan, CBD use is allowed, so long as it is only derived from the stalk and seed. Failure to abide by this rule could mean 10 years imprisonment. In Singapore, CBD is considered a harmful cannabis product, and one man is even facing the death penalty for being involved with the plant.
Medical experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) would likely disagree with the views shared by Singapore and Hong Kong’s government officials. Back in 2017, an expert panel from WHO found that CBD is not harmful or prone to abuse. On the other hand, the panel did not recommend using CBD for medical purposes.
Science says differently, with a swelling field of research confirming that CBD possesses immense therapeutic value. In particular, patients with clinical anxiety and epileptic seizures have experienced relief from their symptoms after using the cannabinoid.
Nonetheless, Hong Kong narcotics officials argue that CBD studies have not been authoritatively proven. Additionally, they emphasize the fact that a third of the CBD products they seized contained THC due to CBD being tricky to extract from cannabis plants.
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