Two years ago, CBD was booming in Hong Kong. The compound known as the CBD is popping up with cafes, restaurants and shops, with businesses eager to join the exciting new market already established in countries around the world.
That all came to an end on Wednesday, when CBD was criminalized in the city and declared a “dangerous drug” on the same level as heroin and fentanyl.
CBD is a chemical found in marijuana and hemp plants. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t get you high; instead, CBD is often touted for everything from helping with pain and inflammation to reducing stress and anxiety.
Its global popularity has exploded in recent years, with brands adding it to shampoos, drinks, body oils, gummy bears and dog food. In the US and Europe, you’ll likely find it in coffee shops and farmers’ markets, mom-and-pop and high-end department stores, and even drug store chain CVS.
But draft legislation to ban CBD was introduced to Hong Kong lawmakers in June last year and came into effect on Feb. 1.
Under the new legislation, possession and consumption of any amount of CBD is punishable by seven years in prison and a HK$1 million ($127,607) fine. Manufacturing, importing or exporting CBD is punishable by life imprisonment.
Even travelers could face penalties, with the government warning people not to risk “buying these products or bringing them back to Hong Kong”.
The same penalties and conditions apply to marijuana, also known as marijuana.
The ban forced CBD-focused businesses to close, while other brands had to withdraw or drop CBD products.
“It’s a shame because it’s definitely a missed opportunity,” said Luke Yardley, founder of Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery, which has previously sold four products Contains CBD – one light beer and three non-alcoholic beverages. “I think anything that doesn’t intoxicate you and helps you relax is probably a good thing.”
The health benefits and risks of CBD have been debated. In the US, most CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means people can buy them off the shelf.
Some studies have found that this compound can relieve pain and may be useful for people who have trouble sleeping. The FDA has approved a drug containing CBD to treat a rare form of severe epilepsy.
But concerns have also been raised, with some experts saying there isn’t enough scientific research into how CBD works or its potential effects.
In January, the FDA announced that CBD products needed a new regulatory pathway in the U.S., saying: “We have not found sufficient evidence to determine how much CBD can be consumed and for how long before harm can be caused.”
In Hong Kong, which has strict marijuana laws, government concerns surround possible Its sister compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is present in CBD products. THC is also present in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the “high”.
In the US and Europe, CBD products can carry up to 0.3% (trace amounts) of THC, but even that is unacceptable in Hong Kong. While CBD products can avoid this trace by using the pure form of CBD, most manufacturers blend other compounds for higher potency.
From 2019 to early 2022, Hong Kong authorities launched nearly 120 “operations” to seize and test CBD products from restaurants, shops and warehouses, Secretary for Security Tang Bingqiang said last year. More than 3,800 products were found to contain THC, he added, without further specifying the proportion or percentage of THC in those products.
In written responses to questions from the Legislative Council, Tang suggested that the government’s traditionally tough stance on THC should be applied to CBD “to protect public health.”
“We have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drugs and we understand that this is a matter of public concern,” he said. “Therefore, the government plans to control the CBD.”
Narcotics Action, a group of representatives from “the fields of social work, education, health and community services” that advises the government on drug policy, said in a statement last November that it supported the CBD ban and the The government’s goal of a “drug-free Hong Kong”.
Last year, before the ban took effect, many businesses began to prepare for the regulatory changes.
Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery, which stopped making CBD drinks late last year in anticipation of the ban, sold out of all remaining products by December, Yardley said.
he said CBD drinks have been “very popular”, accounting for about 8% of the business, as they offer adults a non-alcoholic option to enjoy when out with friends. In some bars, regulars “come in for a CBD lemonade every weekend”, he said.
Now “Hong Kong consumers have less choice. It’s not necessarily a step in the right direction,” he said.
Some companies were forced to shut down entirely.
Med Chef, a restaurant opening in 2021, has boasted of offering Hong Kong’s “first full menu with CBD cocktails, appetizers and entrees”. During a press conference during the launch, the restaurant founder highlighted the health benefits of CBD.
but through Early In November 2022, it will close its doors. “We have worked hard in the past to present CBD in the most accessible form and integrate our dining concept,” the restaurant wrote in a farewell post on Instagram. “Unfortunately, things did not go the way we had hoped. We ended up not being able to move forward with everyone under the latest policies of those in power.”
Found, Hong Kong’s first CBD cafe, also hit the headlines when it opened in 2020.It sells a variety of CBD products, including Infused coffee and beer, oil to help sleep, powder sprinkled on food and Pet products to help relieve stiff joints.
It closes at the end of September 2022, telling customers on Instagram that their positive feedback shows that “CBD can help cope with the stresses of everyday life.”
“Sadly, despite the apparent positive impact, it is now clear that the Hong Kong government intends to pass new legislation prohibiting the sale and possession of CBD,” it wrote.
Yardley said the government’s concerns about THC were valid – but argued they could have implemented better regulations, such as requiring certification or safety standards for CBD samples.
“Banning it entirely is a very extreme response,” he said.
While the brewery will remain open and plans to introduce alternative non-alcoholic beverages to fill the void, Yardley hopes CBD will reappear on menus. “I hope in the future it might be legalized again,” he said.
This story has been updated to include details of the draft legislation and its introduction.