Medical: IllegalRecreational: Illegal
In China, cannabis is largely viewed negatively and recreational use is completely banned. Under the PRC Criminal Law, cannabis is legally classified as being equivalent to heroin, opium, morphine and cocaine. There are no provisions under Chinese law for the use of medical cannabis, even with a prescription or through recognized medical channels. The question of “is marijuana legal in China?” is a resounding no. However, cannabis and the cannabis industry still has a large presence in China.
A history of marijuana in China
The health benefits of cannabis come up regularly in traditional Chinese medicine and the seeds in particular are mentioned again and again in Chinese writing. The philosophical works of Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Mozi all discuss cannabis.
Archaeological records date the use of cannabis in China as far back as 12,000 years ago. Found in incense burners in ancient tombs as well as in fiber form, cannabis seems to have been used extensively in ancient China, for both its healing properties and as a spice alongside ginseng and ginger.
Ancient Chinese emperors such as Emperor Fu Hsi and Emperor Shen Nung displayed strong interests in cannabis, claiming it as having medicinal benefits for rheumatism, menstrual problems, gout, malaria, and even absent-mindedness.
The weed death penalty and other legal sentencing
As mentioned above, weed in China is legally classified in the exact same way as any other illegal substance. This means punishments for the possession, cultivation or use of cannabis can be severe. The maximum punishment for use of cannabis in China is fifteen days’ detention in prison as well as a 2000 yuan (around $325 USD) fine.
Meanwhile, possession, cultivation and manufacture of cannabis charges carry much weightier punishments. Under Article 357 of the PRC Criminal Law, “smuggling, transporting, trafficking or manufacture” of cannabis is maximally punishable by death. How much these laws are applied however, depends strongly on what region of China the offender is in, with provinces such as Shanghai and Xinjiang even being relaxed enough to allow selling of cannabis products on the street.
Are medicinal hemp products legal in China?
Regulation of medical CBD and hemp products is also strict. However, it’s not quite so draconian. Currently, only cosmetic products are available to the public. These products can only be extracted from the hemp leaf, and can only be bought from a short list of legally approved, Chinese companies. Products manufactured internationally are not allowed. Currently, the only CBD and hemp products legally available in China are cosmetics like serums, sunscreens and creams.
Cannabis in China and the black market
Despite these legal obstacles, weed in China is thriving on the black market. The country currently produces a whopping 50% of the world’s cannabis supply. Of the 606 patents filed around the world relating to cannabis products, 309 of them belong to Chinese companies. Chinese-based organizations have also been found to have links to black market operations abroad. One 2019 case found an illegal cannabis growing operation in Southern California funded by over $5 million USD wired from the Guangdong Province of China.
Devices and smoking accessories and China
Like China’s global dominance in the cultivation of the plant, it also manufactures a sizable amount of the world’s cannabis accessories and devices. Recent data found that of the 721 types of smoking accessories surveyed, every last one was exported from China. This is also true for ancillary products in more widely legalized markets, such as CBD markets and vape markets. With 90% of the world’s e-cigarettes made in China, it’s clear that the country dominates the market in accessories as well as cannabis cultivation.