Law enforcement authorities in Hong Kong have suggested banning CBD products this year, as cannabis-derived wellness items have recently gained popularity in the city.
The change would make the substance illegal under the Dangerous Drugs Act, meaning that those who buy or consume these goods could face a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant. CBD is currently legal in Hong Kong as long as it does not contain traces of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), another active ingredient found in hemp that gives users a “high” feeling. THC is listed under the Dangerous Drugs Act.
What you need to know about CBD
CBD is known for its calming effect, and can be found in many goods such as foods, beverages, beauty products, and even pet foods. Industry players also claim that it can help customers regulate their anxiety and relieve stress.
Most CBD products sold in Hong Kong are imported from abroad, including the United States, Britain and Europe. CBD oil, depending on its use and how much, is usually priced from HK$150 to HK$480.
Authorities said it’s “almost inevitable” that CBD products contain THC, as current technology cannot remove it from the compound and may also naturally degrade to the illegal active ingredient.
Cannabidiol can be used to treat anxiety in pets. Photo: Nora Tam
Since 2019, about a third — or more than 4,100 items — of samples of CBD products tested in a government lab have been found to contain THC, the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis, according to figures cited in a paper submitted to the council. Legislative proposal to include CBD under the Dangerous Drugs Act in 2022.
Additionally, CBD can be converted to THC using readily available acidic substances, such as vinegar or battery acid, in the home kitchen.
The proposed legislation would prohibit the manufacture, import, export, supply, sale, possession and shipment of any CBD-containing products in the city.
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What are the reasons given in the context of the proposed ban on CBD?
News: Retailers Urge Alternatives to Banning CBD
Stores specializing in CBD have urged the government to explore alternatives to the outright ban currently on the table.
Although most city lawmakers supported the proposed amendment, players in the industry expressed reservations, arguing that they should be allowed to sell such products as long as the items have undergone lab tests and are verified as safe for use.
“Legislation is a comprehensive approach. I think there is still room for debate. The current regulation is sufficient [to protect residents from THC]said Keith Wong Tsz Wai, executive director of the Community Medicines Advisory Board.
Wong has proposed an alternative law requiring companies to conduct lab tests to ensure they do not include THC in their products.
The licensed social worker said he has not heard of cases where CBD use causes people to also consume cannabis. He added that it was a “myth” for cannabis users to turn to CBD to help reduce the drug’s health effects.
Anthony Tu, co-owner of Cannable, a CBD spa and wellness resort in Sheung Wan, said there is no alternative to his store but to forgo the use of CBD products if the proposed amendments are passed.
CBD products are available at Cannabis CBD Spa and Treatment in Sheung Wan. Photo: Nora Tam
He added that the CBD items used by his store have passed lab tests proving they do not contain THC. “We were so shocked,” he said. “Many countries have legalized the use of CBD.”
Another owner of a store that sells CBD oils said the proposed ban is bad news for the industry.
“CBD products help people who have trouble sleeping, as they can use them in place of painkillers to help them sleep normally,” said the owner, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The store has been liquidating its inventory of CBD products by selling them at discount prices, and has already stopped importing them. Any remaining merchandise will be returned to suppliers if modifications are passed.
Despite the protests, lawmakers supporting the measure say banning CBD will help prevent drug abuse.
“In recent years, there has been a rise in the consumption of cannabis. We will take a hard line against all dangerous drugs and cannabis,” Drug Enforcement Commissioner Kaison Lee told lawmakers on the Security Committee early this month to prevent future long-term abuse.
Problem: Hong Kong police raise alert as more children under 21 are found using cannabis
More young people in Hong Kong have been found using cannabis, and authorities believe they may be ignoring the risks because recreational use of the drug has been legalized in some countries, such as Canada and some states in the United States.
The number of people under the age of 21 who reported using cannabis rose 48 percent from 326 in 2020 to 483 last year, according to data from the Bureau of Security’s Narcotics Division. The number of people under the age of 21 involved in cannabis-related offenses also increased by 35 percent, from 191 in 2020 to 257 last year.
More than half of the city’s known drug users under the age of 21 used cannabis last year, Superintendent Theodora Lee Wai-C, of the Police Force’s Office of Narcotics, said, reflecting the growing trend of such abuse among teens.
CBD comes from plan marijuana, but it does not contain the active ingredient that makes people high. Photo: shutterstock
According to Sam Szeto Kam San, a social worker with the Hong Kong Games Association, many young people take drugs to deal with or distract themselves from their problems. He led a youth outreach team in Yau Tsim Mong District and knew about 50 young people who used drugs. Four out of five have used cannabis anywhere between a few months and a few years.
Szeto urged parents to connect with their children more and be alert to whether they are experiencing emotional problems or showing an interest in cannabis. Parents can also look for cannabis leaf prints on their children’s clothing, references to the number 420 – the street code for the substance – and learn about its distinctive scent.
Professor Tang Wai-kwong, from the Chinese University’s Department of Psychiatry, warned that cannabis can harm users’ physical and mental health.
How to spot signs of drug abuse and help in a supportive way
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, marijuana use, especially frequent (daily or nearly daily) and in high doses, can cause confusion, unpleasant thoughts or feelings of anxiety, and paranoia.
People who use marijuana are more likely to develop temporary psychosis (not knowing what’s real, hallucinations, paranoia) and long-term mental disorders, including schizophrenia (a type of mental illness where people may see or hear things that aren’t there).
The association between marijuana and schizophrenia is strongest in people who started using marijuana at an early age and who use it more frequently.