Hong Kong banned CBD as a «dangerous drug» and imposed harsh penalties for its possession on Wednesday, forcing start-ups to close or renovate.

Supporters say CBD, or cannabidiol, derived from the cannabis plant, can help relieve stress and inflammation without getting users high, unlike its more famous cousin, THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that it has long been illegal in Hong Kong. CBD was once legal in the city, and cafes and shops selling CBD-infused products were popular with young people.

But all that has changed with the ban, which went into effect on Wednesday but had been announced by the government last year. CBD-related businesses have closed, while others have struggled to remodel their businesses. Consumers dumped what they saw as a cure for their ailments into special collection boxes set up around the city.

Hong Kong will ban cannabidiol on February 1, 2023 and the government will place it in the same category as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, with users facing a hefty jail term.
CBD products in Hong Kong on January 30, 2023. Peter Parks / AFP – Getty Images

The new rule reflects a zero-tolerance policy towards dangerous drugs in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous commercial hub in southern China, as well as in mainland China, where CBD was banned in 2022.

The city maintains several categories of «dangerous drugs,» including «hard drugs» like heroin and cocaine.

In explaining the policy change, the Hong Kong government cited the difficulty of isolating pure CBD from cannabis, the possibility of THC contamination during the production process, and the relative ease with which CBD can be converted to THC.

Customs authorities promised last week to do more to educate residents and help them understand that CBD is banned in Hong Kong, although it is legal elsewhere.

As of Wednesday, possession of CBD can result in up to seven years in jail and a HK$1 million ($128,000) fine. Those convicted of importing, exporting or producing the substance can face life in prison and a HK$5 million fine.

Some users said that the ban shows that the international financial center is backing down.

“It just feels less like an international city,” said Jennifer Lo, owner of CBD Bakery, who began selling CBD-infused cheesecakes, cookies and beverages in 2021.

His business largely dried up even before the ban went into effect, he said.

“Rumors of the ban affected the way I do business,” he said. “Some platforms just logged me out without telling me. And then it was not so easy to get space in the markets”.

To comply with the ban, Lo dumped all his remaining stock, including dozens of cookies, and said he would have to change the name of his business.

A few other vendors, including the city’s first CBD cafe that opened in 2020, have gone out of business.

Customs officials at a news conference in Hong Kong on Friday.
Customs officials at a news conference in Hong Kong on Friday. Alice Fung/AP

Karena Tsoi, who used CBD skin care products for two years to treat her eczema, said she will have to find an alternative treatment.

«It’s problematic,» he said. «The government doesn’t have to regulate like that.»

Most Asian nations have strict drug laws with stiff penalties, with the exception of Thailand, which legalized marijuana cultivation and possession last year.

Elsewhere, the CBD debate continues.

The US Food and Drug Administration said last week that there is not enough evidence on CBD to confirm that it is safe for consumption in food or as a dietary supplement. He called on Congress to create new rules for the growing market.

Marijuana-derived products have become increasingly popular in lotions, tinctures, and foods, while their legal status has been murky in the US, where several states have legalized or decriminalized substances that remain federally illegal. .