Hong Kong is criminalizing CBD as a ‘dangerous drug’ alongside heroin

Hong Kong

Two years ago, cannabidiol was booming in Hong Kong. The compound, known as CBD, was spreading in cafes, restaurants and stores, with businesses eager to tap into an exciting new market already well established in countries around the world.

It all came to an end on Wednesday, when the city criminalized CBD and declared it a “dangerous drug” on the same level as heroin and fentanyl.

CBD is a chemical found in hemp and marijuana plants. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you high; Instead, CBD is often marketed for everything from relieving pain and inflammation to reducing stress and anxiety.

Its global popularity has grown in recent years, with brands including it in shampoos, drinks, body oils, gummy bears and dog treats. In the United States and Europe, you can find it sold in coffee shops and farmers markets, mom-and-pop and high-end department stores, and even the drugstore chain CVS.

CBD Cookies at Found Cafe in Hong Kong on August 11, 2022.

But last June, a draft law banning CBD was submitted to Hong Kong lawmakers, and took effect on February 1.

Under the new legislation, possession and use of any amount of CBD could be punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to one million Hong Kong dollars ($127,607). Manufacturing, importing or exporting CBD is punishable by life imprisonment.

Even travelers could face fines, with the government warning people not to “take the risk of buying these products or bringing them back to Hong Kong.”

The same penalties and conditions apply to cannabis, also known as hashish.

The ban has forced CBD-focused businesses to close, while other brands have had to withdraw or get rid of CBD products.

“It’s a shame because it’s definitely a missed opportunity,” said Luke Yardley, founder of Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery, which had previously sold four products. Contains CBD – one lager and three non-alcoholic drinks. “I think anything that doesn’t get you intoxicated, and helps you relax, is probably a good thing.”

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The health benefits and risks of CBD have long been debated. In the US, most CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means people can buy the products off the shelf.

Some research has found that the compound can reduce pain and be useful for people who have trouble falling asleep. The FDA has approved a drug with CBD to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy.

But some experts say there isn’t enough scientific research into how CBD works or its potential effects, raising concerns.

In January, the FDA announced that CBD products would require a new regulatory pathway in the U.S., saying: “We have not found enough evidence to determine how much CBD can be used, and how much. Late, before the damage is done.”

Books on CBD at Found Cafe, Hong Kong on 11 August 2022.

In Hong Kong, which has strict cannabis laws, the government’s concern revolves around the potential The presence of its sister compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in CBD products. THC is also found in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the “high”.

In the US and Europe, CBD products can contain up to 0.3% of THC – a trace amount – but even this is not acceptable in Hong Kong. And while CBD products can avoid this trace amount by using the pure form of CBD, most manufacturers mix in other compounds for higher potency.

From 2019 to early 2022, Hong Kong authorities launched about 120 “operations” to seize and test CBD products from restaurants and shops to warehouses, Secretary for Security Tang Ping Kiong said last year. He added that THC was found in more than 3,800 products, although he did not elaborate on the proportion or percentage of THC in those products.

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In a written response to questions raised in the Legislative Council, Tang suggested that the government’s traditionally tough stance on THC should be applied to CBD “to protect public health.”

He said that we have adopted ‘zero tolerance’ against drugs and we believe that it is a matter of public concern. “So, the government intends to regulate CBD.”

The Action Committee on Drugs, a group of representatives from the “social work, education, medical and community service sectors” that advises the government on anti-drug policy, said in a statement last November that it supported the CBD ban and the government’s goal of a “drug-free Hong Kong”.

Many businesses began preparing themselves for regulatory changes last year before the ban was implemented.

Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery stopped making its CBD drinks late last year in anticipation of the ban, and all of its remaining products were sold by December.

They He said CBD drinks had been “very popular”, accounting for about 8 per cent of the business, as they offered a non-alcoholic option for adults to enjoy when out with friends. At some bars, regulars “come in every weekend for a glass of CBD lemonade,” he said.

Now “there is less choice for consumers in Hong Kong. This is not necessarily a step in the right direction,” he said.

Some companies were forced to close completely.

Mad Chef, a restaurant that opened in 2021, once boasted of serving Hong Kong’s “first full menu of CBD-infused cocktails, appetizers and entrees.” In a news release during its launch, the restaurant’s founder emphasized the health and wellness benefits of CBD.

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But by The skin In November 2022, it closed its doors. “We have worked hard in the past to present CBD in its most acceptable form and integrate it into our food and beverage concepts,” the restaurant wrote in a farewell post on Instagram. “It is unfortunate that things did not go as we hoped. Under the latest policies of those in power, we are ultimately unable to move forward with everyone.

Hong Kong’s first CBD cafe, Found, also made headlines when it opened in 2020. It sold a variety of CBD products including Infused coffee and beer, oil to help Sleep, powder for sprinkling in food and Pet products to help ease stiff joints.

It closed at the end of September 2022, telling patrons on Instagram that their positive feedback showed that “CBD can help cope with the stresses of everyday life.”

“Sadly, despite the noticeable positive effects, it now appears that the Hong Kong government intends to introduce new legislation to prevent the sale and possession of CBD,” he wrote.

Yardley said the government’s concerns about THC are valid — but argued they could have implemented better regulations, such as requiring certification or safety standards around CBD samples.

“Just banning it outright is an overreaction,” he said.

And while the brewery will continue to operate, with plans for alternative non-alcoholic beverages to fill the void, Yardley hopes CBD will be back on the menu. “I hope for the future that it will become legal again,” he said.

This story has been updated to include details on the draft legislation and its introduction.


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