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Hong Kong’s zero-tolerance approach to drugs leaves the emerging CBD industry high and dry

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Earlier this year, Daniel checked the empty shelves of his store. With almost nothing left except for a checkout counter and some simple decor, his shop in the busy Hong Kong area suddenly looked a lot bigger.

The businessman used to spend most of his waking hours there. But he hasn’t returned within two weeks since the day the police officers showed up, and they launched a raid that lasted for hours and arrested him on suspicion of drug possession. Recalling a nightmare, Daniel said, is like “digging for some painful memories

Overnight, he was forced to shut down his business for three years. His ambitions to head the largest lifestyle store in Hong Kong’s Central Business District, shaped by his belief in the benefits of cannabis extract, were shattered in an instant.

“My mind went blank as I watched the officers take all my produce off the shelves one by one,” Daniel, who asked not to use his real name because it was still under investigation, told HKFP. “Everything I did was in vain.”

Soon, Daniel will have plenty of company in his ordeal. A government proposal to criminalize CBD, expected to pass by the end of the year, will shutter dozens of CBD businesses in a city with strict drug laws — although advocates say the substance has almost no narcotic properties.

Imminent ban

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of more than 100 compounds found in the cannabis plant. Users and companies tout its effectiveness in relieving everything from anxiety to sore muscles to eczema.

The literature regarding the cannabis component has been mixed, with some researchers inclined to conclude that it has healing properties, and others attributing any benefits to the placebo effect.

However, an entire industry has been built around CBD in recent years. The chemical ingredient consists of edible oils, emollients, gum bearings, protein powder, and more. CBD is arguably more prevalent in Western countries, where there has been a wave of legalization of medical cannabis and a push to decriminalize it for recreational use. But Hong Kong – where cannabis is considered illegal – has also seen increased interest in CBD.

Dozens of CBD stores, both online and brick-and-mortar businesses, have popped up all over town. There is a CBD-style spa on a quiet street in Sheung Wan, while a neon-lit restaurant on the first floor of the Tsim Sha Tsui Building promotes itself as “Hong Kong’s first dedicated CBD fusion restaurant.”

But soon, they will all have to close the store. In June, the government Suggest a ban on CBDsaying that it is “almost inevitable” that CBD products contain traces of THC, which is illegal in Hong Kong.

The compound, more commonly referred to as THC, is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. The harmful effects of long-term cannabis use — such as an increased risk of mental health disorders — are similar to those produced by THC alone, according to the World Health Organization.

Authorities have been cracking down on CBD sellers since last November, with more than 30,000 CBD products suspected of being confiscated, the Security Bureau told HKFP. Of those tested in a government lab, about a third contained the psychoactive compound.

A total of 34 people were arrested for suspected offenses related to CBD products, including dangerous drug trafficking and dangerous drug possession. No charges have been brought against them, with all released on bail pending further investigations.

The drug division said it plans to “schedule relevant legislation” to list CBD under the Dangerous Drugs Act within the year, making CBD products illegal in Hong Kong.

“There is no absolute zero”

Daniel said authorities have not told him if his products contain THC. Before offering his wares for sale, he sent it to a cannabis testing lab in the US, which returned reports – seen by HKFP – that CBD had not been detected.

“My opinion was that what I was doing was legal,” he added.

in the Legislative Council paperThe Drugs Department said the amount of THC found in some CBD products may not be captured in tests because it is below the detection limits of the analytical methods used, but the compound is still “probably present.”

She also cited research showing that CBD can degrade into THC under normal storage conditions. Donald Land, a professor of chemistry with expertise in cannabis science at the University of California, Davis, told HKFP that’s true — but the amount of THC produced would have “very little effect.”

“The government’s position clearly indicates just the presence of any amount of dangerous drugs, not the effects or lack thereof,” Land added.

For CBD users, the government’s justification for the ban is questionable. They believe that a very small amount of THC that cannot be detected by an average lab test, will not cause the psychoactive effects authorities are warning about.

“As we know, there is no absolute zero in science,” Dennis Tam, co-founder of online CBD store Heavens Please, told HKFP. The government may have found 0.00001 percent THC. What is the effect of that? ”

Authorities have never announced how much THC was found in the CBD products tested. In response to HKFP, the Department of Narcotics said that according to the Dangerous Drugs Act, “any amount of a dangerous drug is considered a dangerous drug.”

The co-founder said she had already halted imports of CBD products earlier this year, and she expected a ban to be imminent when she saw news reports of government raids.

“The World Health Organization has already said that CBD is harmless, but Hong Kong is tightening its regulations,” said Tam, who believes CBD calms her anxiety and relieves stress. “It is unexplainable.”

Dr. Albert Chung, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Hong Kong, said there is far less research into CBD than there is for THC. The literature suggests that genetic factors — such as a family history of mood or psychotic disorders — can cause one to be affected by even a tiny amount of THC, he told HKFP.

The exact threshold at which THC’s psychoactive properties will kick in, Chung said, is “difficult to predict and will depend on the person.”

Low cultural acceptance

The looming CBD ban is in line with the Hong Kong government’s zero-tolerance stance toward marijuana, a stance that has been amplified by public education materials bearing the slogan “cannabis is a drug.”

In Hong Kong, all psychoactive drugs including cannabis, ketamine and opioids are classified [by authorities] In one group – dangerous drugs,” Chung said.

The same could be said for much of Asia, he added, where official voices tend to emphasize the side effects of cannabis use without mentioning its potential as a treatment in a medical setting.

Despite the stigma, the A recent study One published by Chung and his team found that medical students in Hong Kong support the legalization of medical cannabis.

The research, the first known study of its kind in the city and the second in Asia, found that students “demonstrated supportive attitudes toward training and research on cannabis for medical use.”

But after decades of cannabis being classified as a dangerous drug, Chung said it can be difficult to reverse public attitudes, even if it is used in the medical field.

“It will be very difficult for Hong Kong to obtain medical cannabis in the next 10 years,” Chung said, adding that legalization would be a “long process” with “a lot” for lawmakers to consider.

Meanwhile, CBD user Penny Chong said she’s stocking up on oils and moisturizers while she still can—but she admits she’s not in danger of running out any time soon.

The 30-year-old has amassed dozens of CBD products over the three years since she first came across cannabis extract, spending about HK$1,000 per month on it. Recently, she’s also started experimenting with making her own CBD oils, mixing CBD isolate — a powder made up of pure CBD — into coconut oils.

Chung told HKFP that CBD helps treat her headaches and skin allergies. She also recommended CBD products to friends who were diagnosed with cancer, after hearing that they could help with the side effects of chemotherapy.

“Having sold CBD in Hong Kong was a big step. Now, we are moving backwards.”

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