China is the world’s major hemp producer. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), China holds 309 of the world’s 606 hemp-related patents, which makes it a hub for the lucrative plant’s production and research.
However, even so, Beijing introduced some of the toughest laws against hemp production, trade, and consumption since the Communist Party took power in 1949. Under Chinese criminal law, anybody carrying more than 5kg of processed marijuana leaves, 10kg of resin, or 150kg of fresh leaves can face the death penalty.
Why China, the world’s biggest cannabis producer, can’t stand the use of hemp domestically?
In fact, China doesn’t always hold such a tough stance on marijuana, and has cultivated hemp for thousands of years for textiles, seeds, oil, and even traditional Chinese medicine. But the government’s attitude dramatically changed after two defeats in the opium wars.
In the 19th century, the United Kingdom was in high demand for tea, porcelain, and silk, and China abounded with those products. This resulted in years of trade imbalance between the two countries.
British traders then found their solution in opium. They began to sell illicit and addictive opium to China. According to incomplete figures, there were about 12 million drug users in the country during the period, the South China Morning Post reported.
By the 1830s, opium became one of the biggest imported goods in China, causing great financial losses and health issues to the country.
This alerted the Qing government, which ruled China from 1644 to 1912, and prompted resistance against opium imported from the United Kingdom. The conflict, named the First Opium War, ended up in China ceding Hong Kong island and making massive compensations to the United Kingdom.
After two decades, British and French armed forces waged the Second Opium War against China for more privileges in the eastern Asian country. The Qing government ultimately surrendered after nearly four years of resistance, and this resulted in the destruction of the Summer Palace in Beijing, a former imperial garden now often used by the Communist Party to remind Chinese people of foreign invasion.
China continued to face defeat in wars with Germany, Japan, the United States, and Russia, all of whom were looking for their share of China’s vast empire.
During this humiliating 100 years, China lost over one-third of its territory, and tens of millions of citizens. China didn’t defeat Japan and won the World War II until 1945.
Subsequently, Chinese governments decided to focus on modernization and industrialization, in an effort to prevent the situation of opium rampaging happen again in China.
In 1985, China signed the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, in a move to go further in controlling marijuana. They didn’t ban all cultivation of hemp until 2010 when Beijing eased its grip on planting industrial hemp.
Besides the Chinese government’s zero tolerance for marijuana, most Chinese people, whether at home or abroad, oppose for CBD products’ use.
Parents and schools often tell children to stay away from “harmful” drugs, and similar propaganda can be found nearly everywhere in China.
News of celebrities taking drugs can go viral on social media like Weibo and WeChat, and mostly they will receive widespread condemn for “ruining social morality”.
The hemp ban is also an effort by the Chinese government to gain the Chinese people’s support. The Communist Party may not face voters, but they do care about legitimacy. By preventing the spread of drugs, the Chinese government can decrease the crime rate, and further strengthen its rule.
While China says “No” to marijuana, it lets its cannabis industry keep blooming. In 2010 and 2017, Beijing legalizes hemp cultivation in the southwestern province of Yunnan and the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. At the same time the northeastern province of Jilin is set to become the third region in China to be permitted to cultivate hemp.
It was estimated by the Qianzhan Industrial Institute in Shenzhen that China has planted about 25,100 hectares in 2018. Most of them contain THC less than 0.3.
As of today, China has permitted the sale of hemp seeds and hemp oil and the use of CBD in cosmetics, but it has not yet approved cannabidiol for use in food and medicines.
Restricted by the cannabis ban, Chinese farmers and companies permitted to produce marijuana and now focus their attention on the markets in Canada, the European Union and some states in the United States, while looking forward to easing further hemp cultivation and sale in China.