Hong Kong and the negative developments taking place there have been the subject of many posts in our sister China Law Blog. But now it is our turn to report on the Fragrant Harbor. Unfortunately the news is also bad on the cannabis front, just like on the political and economic ones.
From February 1 onward, CBD (cannabidiol) will be regarded as a “dangerous drug” in Hong Kong, subject the provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (DDO). This means that any activities involving CBD will be unlawful.
According to the Hong Kong Government, “under the DDO, trafficking (including importing and exporting) and illicit manufacturing of CBD is liable to a maximum penalty of a fine of $5 million [USD 638,000] and life imprisonment.” Yes, you read that right. Bringing CBD products into Hong Kong could get you locked up at Shek Pik Prison for good.
To put this in perspective, Hong Kong does not have capital punishment (for now). This means that a CBD “trafficker” could potentially receive the same sentence as that of a heroin trafficker, and indeed that of someone like Henry Chau.
Meanwhile, “possession and consumption of CBD in contravention of the DDO will be subject to a maximum penalty of a fine of $1 million [USD 128,000] and imprisonment of seven years.”
Hong Kong’s CBD crackdown makes no sense. It would be one thing for the city to simply ban CBD products: After all, here in the United States many CBD products are unlawful at the federal level. However, those CBD products are unlawful because of food and drug safety laws, not because they are considered narcotics.
One reason presented by the Hong Kong authorities for lumping CBD with heroin and cocaine is that CBD can naturally decompose or be intentionally converted into THC. According to one study, CBD can turn into THC after ingestion. The study, however, notes that such degradation is unlikely to occur through transdermal delivery of CBD, raising the question of why CBD cosmetics should be considered “dangerous drugs”. In any case, the terms “life imprisonment” and “CBD” should not be used in the same sentence, even in the case of ingestibles.
It is beyond the remit of this blog to delve into Hong Kong politics, though the China Law Blog is certainly keeping track of what is happening. It does appear, however, that China’s tightening hold over Hong Kong is increasingly reflected in the city’s approaches to law enforcement. To be sure, the legalization of recreational or even medical cannabis is not something that we ever expected to occur anytime soon in Hong Kong or any other Chinese territory. Yet Hong Kong’s wholesale criminalization of CBD is without doubt one of the worst legal developments we have seen concerning CBD and cannabis generally in recent years. It is sad beyond words to see this happening in a city long characterized for its pragmatic approach to all manner of issues.
AUTHOR FRED ROCAFORT
Fred leads Harris Bricken’s intellectual property practice and is the coordinator of the firm’s international team. Much of Fred’s practice consists of helping cannabis businesses protect their brands. He also works with entrepreneurs and companies entering the Web3 space, a new frontier for IP law. Prior to joining Harris Bricken, Fred worked overseas for more than a decade, in both government and private sector roles. Fred is a regular contributor to the award-winning China Law Blog and Canna Law Blog. Fred began his career overseas as a U.S. consular officer in Guangzhou, China, where he advocated for fairer treatment of American companies and citizens in China and for stronger intellectual property rights enforcement. After entering the private sector, Fred worked at a Shanghai law firm as a foreign legal advisor and later joined one of the oldest American law firms in China, helping foreign companies navigate the Chinese legal environment. He also led the legal team at a Hong Kong-based brand protection consultancy, spending most of his time out in the field, protecting clients against counterfeiters and fraudsters in Greater China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. In addition to his IP work, as a native Spanish speaker, Fred works closely with different Harris Bricken teams on Latin America and Spain matters. Fred also provides advice to cannabis industry participants and other businesses on import and export transactions. Fred is an ardent supporter of FC Barcelona—and would be even in the absence of Catalan forebears who immigrated to Puerto Rico in the mid-1800s.