Cannabis Is Illegal in China, But It Produces 50% of the World's Supply


Cannabis is illegal in China. In fact, the country has some of the harshest drug laws. Still, China produces half the world’s supply of legal cannabis, most of which is industrial hemp. On top of that, according the World Intellectual Property Organization, China owns more than half the cannabis patents in the world. What this points to is that China anticipates a global cannabis pharmaceutical market, and that Chinese leaders want a big piece of it.

Some doubt that China will be able to get around its own cultural issues with drugs to be able to actually put that supply chain into effect. But China produces and sells a great deal of opioids. Taboos may keep social and cultural behaviors in check, but do we really believe China’s leadership will turn down market opportunities that its already positioned itself to take advantage of?

History of Cannabis Use and Cultivation in China

China has centuries of experience cultivating cannabis for its fiber to be turned into rope, fabric, and paper. Hemp has been discovered in Shang Dynasty Tombs, and it is believed to be evidence of China’s first form of making paper. The Chinese also have a rich and recorded history of using the seeds and leaves of cannabis in traditional medicine.

It’s not surprising that a country with such a long hemp history is able to produce so much of it. China hosts a multitude of climates across varied regions, and the industrial hemp form of cannabis—the low-THC kind—can be grown in a variety of climates with less resources than many other crops. In other words, it appeals to Chinese farmers in some of its border regions where it is sometimes difficult to farm. The Heilongjiang province in China’s frosty north on the Russian border, is one of the country’s major cannabis producing regions.


Drugs Are Taboo

In 1985, the People’s Republic of China joined the Convention of Psychotropic Substances and made cannabis illegal to possess. Furthermore, China has a history with drug problems. What is known as the “Century of Humiliation” has made drugs especially taboo in Chinese society. The British Empire of the late 1800s crippled China with a huge influx of Indian opium, opening the door for it to be colonized. China and its citizens have not forgotten the Opium Wars, the psychological and sociological effects of which still persist and have resulted in some of the harshest drug laws in the world.

This was apparent in China’s recent public letter to Chinese citizens in Canada, especially students, calling for them to avoid marijuana now that it has been legalized recreationally in Canada. As you would expect, Asian-Canadians weigh in with an obvious generational divide. Some young Chinese have embraced legalization, while older immigrants have posted alarmists claims that it will ruin the Chinese, a very obvious effect of a generation still emotionally attached to a history of being ruined and taken advantage of by Opium.

Some speculate that this drug taboo will stand in way of China being a real player in the international cannabis industry. But it kind of looks like they already are …

Already a Cannabis Superpower

For decades now China has been turning a blind eye to farmers that grow hemp. This happens especially on a local level in more remote border areas where local leadership wants their farmers to be successful. It’s true that China has become more tolerant of industrial hemp farming, but in some areas where drug abuse has been a problem, such as Xinjiang, even industrial hemp, which is non-psychoactive, is banned.

That being said, for decades now, researchers have developed various hybrid species that not only survive but thrive in China’s contrasting environments, from the Arctic conditions in Heilongjiang, to Inner Mongolia’s Gobi Desert to the subtropics of Yunnan.

According to the New Zealand Herald, “There are no official figures for the amount of the plant China produces each year, but plantations are flourishing — both for commercial and illicit drug use. This growth was in part made possible by government-funded scientists assigned to study the plant's military uses, including medication and uniform fabric.”

So, does it really seem like China’s not planning on, not only being a part of, but, perhaps, dominating the international cannabis industry?

What It Means for the U.S.

China already owns more than half of the worlds’ cannabis patents. What does that mean? According to Ottawa-based investor and biochemist, Dr. Luc Duchesne, is implies that “because cannabis in Western medicine is becoming accepted, the predominance of Chinese patents suggests that pharmaceutical sciences are evolving quickly in China, outpacing Western capabilities.”

America is still the biggest importer of Chinese hemp. Bryan DeHaven of Colorado-based clothing company, Chiefton Supply Co., told the Guardian “You can’t make hemp clothing in the U.S. because the country no longer has sufficient expertise in textile production.” But China, as we all know, does.

According to Ananda Hemp, a major hemp industry leader based in Kentucky, while the U.S is trying to play catch-up, China already has the advantage. “They had decades of engaging in textile need and other profit sources in regions that were undeveloped or unable to compete with nearby superpowers.”

Unfortunately, the foreign influx of hemp creates more pressure for regulation from the federal government. A sudden rise in mystery foreign crop casts doubt on what is or isn’t consumer grade quality. The greater the Chinese hemp boom becomes, the greater demand for the U.S. to regulate product safety. 


Bourque, A. “China is Blaming Canada for Its Cannabis Problem But Is Producing 50% of the World’s Supply.” Forbes.30 July 2018. Web. Accessed 6 December 2018.

Chen, S. “Green gold: how China quetly grew into a cannabis superpower.” South China Morning Post. 28 August 2017. Web. Accessed 7 December 2018.

“China is secretly becoming a global cannabis leader.”  420 Intel (submitted by Marijuana News). 3 September 2018. Web. Accessed 6 December 2018.


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