Two years ago, cannabidiol was booming in Hong Kong. The compound, known as CBD, has been popping up in cafes, restaurants and shops, as companies eager to join an exciting new market already well-established in countries around the world.
It all came to an end on Wednesday, when CBD was decriminalized in the city and declared a “dangerous drug” on the same level as heroin and fentanyl.
CBD is a chemical found in hemp and marijuana plants. It’s non-psychoactive, which means it won’t get you high; Instead, CBD is often marketed for everything from helping relieve pain and inflammation to reducing stress and anxiety.
Its global popularity has skyrocketed In recent years, with the brands adding to shampoos, drinks, body oils, gummy bears, and dog treats. In the United States and Europe, you may find it sold in coffee shops and farmers’ markets, department stores and upscale department stores, and even the CVS drugstore chain.
But last June, a bill banning CBD was introduced to Hong Kong lawmakers, and went into effect on February 1.
Under the new legislation, possession and consumption of any amount of CBD is punishable by seven years in prison and a fine of 1 million Hong Kong dollars (US$127,607). Manufacturing, importing, or exporting CBD is punishable by life imprisonment.
Even travelers could face penalties, as the government warns people not to take risks by “purchasing these products or bringing them back to Hong Kong.”
The same penalties and conditions apply to hashish, also known as marijuana.
The ban forced CBD-focused companies to close, while other brands were forced to back off or get rid of CBD products.
“It’s a shame because there’s definitely a missed opportunity,” said Luke Yardley, founder of Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery, which previously sold four brews. Contains CBD – beer and three non-alcoholic drinks. “I think anything you can’t get drunk on that helps you relax is probably a good thing.”
The health benefits and risks of CBD For a long time. In the United States, most CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means people can buy the items off the shelf.
Some research has found that the compound can relieve pain and may be beneficial for those who have it trouble sleeping. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved one CBD-containing drug to treat rare and severe forms of epilepsy.
But concerns have also been raised, with some experts saying there isn’t enough scientific research on how CBD works or its potential effects.
in january, The Food and Drug Administration has announced CBD products It would require a new regulatory path in the US, saying, “We haven’t found enough evidence to say how much CBD is consumed, and for how long, before it causes harm.”
In Hong Kong, which has strict cannabis laws, the government’s concern revolves around the possible The presence of the sister compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in CBD products. THC is also found in cannabis plants and is responsible for the “high.”
In the US and Europe, CBD products can carry up to 0.3% – a trace amount – of THC, but even this is not acceptable in Hong Kong. And while CBD products can avoid this tiny amount by using a pure form of CBD, most manufacturers mix in other compounds to increase potency.
From 2019 to early 2022, Hong Kong authorities launched nearly 120 “operations” to control and test CBD products from restaurants and convenience stores to warehouses, Security Minister Tang Bingkeong said last year. He added that more than 3,800 products had been found to contain THC, though he did not provide further details about the proportion or percentage of THC in those products.
In a written response to questions raised in the legislature, Tang suggested that the government’s traditionally strict stance on THC should be applied to CBD to “protect public health.”
“We have adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ principle towards drugs and understand that it is a matter of public concern,” he said. “So, the government plans to control CBD.”
The Action Against Drugs Committee, a group of representatives from “the fields of social work, education, medicine and community service” that advises the government on drug policy, said in a statement last November that it supported the ban on CBD and the government. The goal of “Drug-free Hong Kong”.
Many companies are starting to prepare for regulatory changes in 2022, ahead of the government’s official announcement in January.
Yardley said the Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery stopped making CBD drinks late last year in anticipation of the ban, and had sold out all of its remaining products by December.
he CBD drinks were “very popular,” at about 8% of business, he said, as they provided adults with a non-alcoholic option to enjoy when out with friends. In some bars, the regulars come “every weekend for a glass of CBD lemonade,” he said.
Now “there are fewer choices for Hong Kong consumers. This is not necessarily a step in the right direction.”
Some businesses have been forced to close completely.
Opening in 2021, Med Chef once boasted of serving “Hong Kong’s first full menu of cocktails, appetizers, and appetizers infused with CBD.” in Press release During its launch, the founder of the restaurant emphasized the health and wellness benefits of CBD.
but by early In November 2022 it closed its doors. Restaurant Books Another farewell on instagram. “It is a pity that things did not turn out the way we had hoped. Under the recent policies of those in power, we cannot finally move forward with everyone.”
Hong Kong’s first CBD caféfound, also made headlines when it opened in 2020. It sold a variety of CBD products including Coffee infused, beer and oils to help Sleep, powder sprinkled in food and Pet products to help relieve joint stiffness.
Closed at the end of September 2022, Tell the beneficiaries on Instagram that their positive feedback showed that “CBD can help deal with the stresses of everyday life.”
“Unfortunately, despite the apparent positive impact, it is now becoming clear that the Hong Kong government intends to adopt new legislation to prohibit the sale and possession of CBD,” she wrote.
Yardley said the government’s concerns about THC were valid — but argued that they could have implemented better regulations, such as requiring certification or safety standards around CBD samples.
“It’s an extreme reaction to just banning it entirely,” he said.
And while the brewery will continue to operate, with plans for alternative non-alcoholic beverages to fill the gap, Yardley hopes CBD will return to the menu. “I hope in the future it will be legal again,” he said.
This story has been updated to include details and introduction of the draft legislation.