Cannabis in China remains a complicated issue. Cannabis faces stigmatization, and the Chinese government continues to crack down on usage.
The Chinese government’s attempts to stamp out perceived social ills are nothing new. Just recently, the government implemented new policies that restrict gaming time for youths. Policies around cannabis are similarly strict, so let’s start looking at them.
Current Legal Status of Cannabis in China
Cannabis is currently illegal in China. To clarify, you cannot use it for recreational nor medicinal purposes. However, this does not mean that cannabis is completely banned. China remains one of the largest producers of medicinal marijuana and hemp. Furthermore, China is home to some of the oldest texts on medicinal marijuana. But despite the importance of cannabis to China’s past and present, the Chinese government severely limits its usage among citizens.
Punishments vary widely but using cannabis is ultimately illegal. If law enforcement catches you with cannabis, you can face anywhere from five years of prison time to life imprisonment. And if you possess over five kilograms of marijuana, you might face the death penalty. Additionally, the government is unlikely to change its tune anytime soon. The Communist Party looks to crack down on cannabis further. Back in June, the government started banning the use of CBD in cosmetics.
How Do Chinese Citizens Perceive Cannabis?
You might be asking, “Does the government’s policies around cannabis reflect broader Chinese attitudes?” This kind of question is rather difficult to answer, but let me take a shot at it. In Cantonese, we refer to cannabis as dai maa, which literally translates to “big hemp”. Given China’s history as a hemp producer, this name almost seems like a form of praise. But my very anecdotal experiences with Chinese parents suggest otherwise. In my household, having marijuana, in any form, is a big no-no. Shortly after I finished university, I brought home a vape pen because it seemed pretty inconspicuous. Within a week it was gone. The primary suspect? My mom.
Perhaps we could chalk this up to generational differences. But when it comes to Chinese households, there exists this uncompromising attitude towards marijuana. There is no room for dialogue around the issue – weed is simply banned, no ifs or buts. But why does this negativity around cannabis exist within Chinese culture? If we possess such a storied history with cannabis, why the stigma?
One reason I can surmise is the Opium Wars with the British Empire. Back in the 19th century, China had a serious opiate crisis as British traders brought the drug over to Chinese ports. The Qing king responded with restrictions on British merchants. In turn, Britain went to war with China, in which China lost. Not only was the loss embarrassing for China, but we have also retained painful memories of opium’s effects on our people. Perhaps our attitudes towards cannabis reflect fears that stem back to our history with opium.
Will China’s policies and cultural outlook around cannabis change? In the near future, new attitudes look unlikely. But with enough time, maybe cannabis can regain its status as our “big hemp”.