In many places in China cannabis grows wild. Marijuana is also abundant in the Yunnan Province where some ethnic minorities smoke it. Some Uyghurs in Xinjiang smoke hashish. Much of the hashish sold in Beijing and Shanghai originates with the Uyghur community in Western China. Some young people who don't smoke hashish say they would like to but can't because it is too expensive. Otherwise cannabis is viewed negatively in China, and it is illegal to use or sell it. If you’re caught selling cannabis (particularly in the stricter areas of China, where the law is more tightly enforced) you can expect a prison sentence and possibly a death sentence, depending on the amount of cannabis in your possession.

Cannabis use: percentage of the population aged 15-64: 0.04 percent (2015, compared to 27 percent in Israel, 16.2 percent in the United States and .3 percent in Japan [Source: World Drug reports of 2011 and 2006 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Wikipedia Wikipedia ]

China's hemp industry is the world’s largest and Chinese companies own over half of the world’s patents for cannabis-related products. Even though smoking cannabis is illegal, the South China Morning Post reported in April 2013 that it was a popular drug among China's young people despite the threat of lengthy prison sentences. Peter Reynolds, leader of Cannabis Law Reform (Clear), a UK-based campaign group, told The Independent there was a "terrible, terrible irony" that the Government was so hostile to its use. [Source: Ian Johnson, The Independent, January 5, 2014]

Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Hashish, China Not so Special blog ; Cannabis History ; Opium Trade in China

History of Cannabis in China

As early as 10,000 B.C. the Chinese used cannabis in fabrics and foods. In 2000 B.C., it was purportedly used in herbal remedies devised by the legendary emperor Shen-Nung. Almost 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions including gout and malaria. Later, cannabis was prescribed as a treatment for female weakness, gout, malaria and absentmindedness by in Chinese doctors.

According to Sensi Seeds: Cannabis has been grown in China for centuries. In fact, some of the earliest archaeological evidence of hemp usage was found in China, from some rope imprints on a piece of broken pottery. Hemp cloth was also discovered in Chinese burial chambers, dating as far back as 1122 BC. The ancient Chinese people used it for clothing and rope, and for warfare. As it was strong and durable, it was ideal for making strings for bows, and meant the arrows could fly further. The Chinese also used it for making paper – and were the first people in the world to come up with this invention. [Source: Maurice Veldman, LLM. Sensi Seeds, September 25, 2021]

In addition to serving many practical purposes, cannabis was also valued as a medicine. Referred to as ‘ma’, it was used to treat a variety of conditions, from menstrual pain and gout, to constipation and malaria. It was even used as an anaesthetic to reduce pain during surgery. Cannabis has been continually used in China since the ancient times. Even when the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the benefits of cannabis were still being researched. However, increasingly negative perceptions meant that many of the plantations were destroyed throughout the 20th century, particularly in the 1990s.

World's Oldest Marijuana Found in Northwest China

Nearly a kilogram of still-green marijuana was found in a 2, 700-year-old near Turpan in northwest China. Jennifer Viegas of NBC News wrote: “Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material found in a 2, 700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert has just been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany. A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, NBC News, December 3, 2008 =]

“They apparently were getting high too. Lead author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana "is quite similar" to what's grown today. "We know from both the chemical analysis and genetics that it could produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, the main psychoactive chemical in the plant), " he explained, adding that no one could feel its effects today, due to decomposition over the millennia. =

“Russo served as a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany while conducting the study. He and his international team analyzed the cannabis, which was excavated at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China. It was found lightly pounded in a wooden bowl in a leather basket near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian man who died when he was about 45. "This individual was buried with an unusual number of high value, rare items, " Russo said, mentioning that the objects included a make-up bag, bridles, pots, archery equipment and a kongou harp. The researchers believe the individual was a shaman from the Gushi people, who spoke a now-extinct language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic. =

“Scientists originally thought the plant material in the grave was coriander, but microscopic botanical analysis of the bowl contents, along with genetic testing, revealed that it was cannabis. “The size of seeds mixed in with the leaves, along with their color and other characteristics, indicate the marijuana came from a cultivated strain. Before the burial, someone had carefully picked out all of the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, so Russo and his team believe there is little doubt as to why the cannabis was grown. =

“What is in question, however, is how the marijuana was administered, since no pipes or other objects associated with smoking were found in the grave. "Perhaps it was ingested orally, " Russo said. "It might also have been fumigated, as the Scythian tribes to the north did subsequently." Although other cultures in the area used hemp to make various goods as early as 7,000 years ago, additional tomb finds indicate the Gushi fabricated their clothing from wool and made their rope out of reed fibers. The scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the blue-eyed man was buried with a lot of it. "As with other grave goods, it was traditional to place items needed for the afterlife in the tomb with the departed, " Russo said. The ancient marijuana stash is now housed at Turpan Museum in China. In the future, Russo hopes to conduct further research at the Yanghai site, which has 2,000 other tombs.” =

Where Cannabis Can Be Found in China

According to Sensi Seeds: Cannabis is grown widely in China and can often be found growing in the wild. Plants growing in the colder northern latitudes are usually less potent and unpleasant to smoke. Those that grow in the southern areas of the country are considered ‘better quality’. Usually, these crops are grown for personal consumption only. [Source: Maurice Veldman, LLM. Sensi Seeds, September 25, 2021]

In the province of Ningxia marijuana grows wild everywhere. Government officials deny that people smoke it although western observers have smelled it on the trains. Much of the hashish sold in Beijing and Shanghai originates with the Uyghar community in Western China. Some young people who don't smoke hashish say they would like to but can't because it is too expensive.

Dali City is regarded as the epicentre of cannabis cultivation in China. It’s situated in the Yunnan province, which is famous for its wild cannabis. This can be seen growing by houses and even in gardens. As a result of this, cannabis use is quite prevalent in Dali City.

Xinjang is another ‘cannabis hotspot’, and cannabis is reportedly widely available here. Most of the plants grown here are processed into hashish; which is unsurprising, given that 60% of the population here are Uyghur (people that originally come from central and eastern Asia). They’re predominantly Muslim and have brought their traditional hashish-making techniques from the Islamic world.

Medicinal Uses of Cannabis in China

According to Sensi Seeds: Cannabis’s medical value has been recognised in the country’s culture for millennia. There are numerous references to the plant in Chinese literature, especially regarding the seeds, which have been continuously used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 1800 years. The Chinese believe that cannabis (or ‘ma’) is a unique drug, in that it is feminine and masculine. This is sometimes referred to as yin and yang. The yin represented weakness and passivity, the yang, the strong and active. When the two are in balance, this results in a healthy body and mind. However, when they are out of balance, traditional medicine practitioners believe that illness is likely to occur. [Source: Maurice Veldman, LLM. Sensi Seeds, September 25, 2021]

Today, China is one of the world’s most significant medical cannabis producers. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, it owns 309 of the 606 patents relating to cannabis. In economic terms, this puts China in a strong position to cash in on the ‘green rush’ – with more countries choosing to make medicinal cannabis available on prescription.

Although China is a major player in the medical cannabis market, it does not currently have a medical programme in place. Nor does the law permit the use of cannabis for any medical purposes, even with a prescription. Glenn Davies, group CEO of Singapore-based cannabis company CannAcubed, believes that it’s only a matter of time before medicinal cannabis is legalised in China. “Instead of shipping it all to the US, Canada and Europe so everybody else benefits,” he states, “it makes more sense for them to keep it here.”

Chinese Cannabis Patents

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 patents relating to the drug. "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," Dr Luc Duchesne, an Ottawa-based businessman and biochemist, wrote in InvestorIntel. "CTM [Chinese traditional medicine] is poised to take advantage of a growing trend. The writing is on the wall: Westernised Chinese traditional medicine is coming to a dispensary near you." [Source: Ian Johnson, The Independent, January 5, 2014 ^]

Ian Johnson wrote in The Independent: Many of the Chinese patents are for herbal treatments. One, filed by the Yunan Industrial Cannabis Sativa Co, refers to an application made from whole cannabis sativa seeds to make "functional food" designed to improve the human immune system. Another, by an inventor called Zhang Hongqi, is for a "Chinese medicinal preparation" for treating peptic ulcers. It uses an array of ingredients, including cannabis sativa seed. The filing says it has "significant therapeutic effectiveness and does not cause any adverse effect". There is also a patent filing from China for a treatment for constipation, which is made using fructus cannabis and other ingredients such as "immature bitter orange", Chinese angelica and balloon flower. This, it is claimed, treats constipation's root causes and symptoms resulting in "obvious curative effects". ^

“However, only one company in the world has developed cannabis-based drugs as medicines that have been recognised by regulators in the West following the long, costly process of clinical trials. GW Pharmaceuticals, based in Wiltshire, makes Sativex for the treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and cancer pain, and Epidiolex for childhood epilepsy. A spokesman for the company, which is the only one licensed to carry out research on cannabis in the UK, said China had a long history of working with herbal medicines. "In that sense it doesn't come as a surprise. This is a country with thousands of years of working with plants in medicines," he said of the patent filings. ^

Peter Reynolds, leader of Cannabis Law Reform (Clear), a UK-based campaign group, said China had another advantage over other countries in selling cannabis as it is one of the largest producers in the world of industrial hemp, a form of cannabis with a low amount of the psychoactive compound THC. "The Chinese are smarter and they are on to all the good ideas," Mr Reynolds said. "The potential for cannabis as a medicine is monumental." ^

China Cashes in on Cannabis

China has a booming cannabidiol (CBD) industry. CBD is a substance extracted from cannabis, but it doesn’t contain high enough levels of THC to product a ‘high’. However, although China produces CBD products, these are exported to other countries. It is not legal to use, purchase or sell CBD in the country.

Ian Johnson wrote in The Independent: “Today, as the global market for marijuana experiences an unprecedented boom after being widely legalised, it is China that again appears to have set its eyes on dominating trade in the drug. The communist country is well placed to exploit the burgeoning cannabis trade with more than half of the patents relating to or involving cannabis originating in China. About 147 million people – around 2.5 percent of the world's population – use cannabis, according to the World Health Organisation. And medicinal properties of the drug are increasingly being recognised. It can be used to treat conditions ranging from the nausea caused by chemotherapy for cancer patients and chronic pain to cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. [Source: Ian Johnson, The Independent, January 5, 2014]

In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalise marijuana in its entirety – from growing the crop to processing and use. It appears Peru could follow Uruguay's example and legalise cannabis production. In December 2013, the US state of Colorado decriminalised the recreational use of cannabis and people in Washington state have also voted to legalise marijuana.

Industrial Hemp in China

China is the largest hemp producer in the world, controlling over half of the world's supply. According to Sensi Seeds: China exports hemp (and hemp products) across the globe. Demand from North America and Europe is particularly high.The industrial hemp produced in large quantities by China is a form of cannabis with a low amount of the psychoactive compound THC. produces over 50% of the globe’s supply. [Source: Maurice Veldman, LLM. Sensi Seeds, September 25, 2021]

Most of the hemp plantations are currently in the Yunnan and Shandong provinces. Campaigners are attempting to increase cultivation, highlighting the advantages of bringing more employment to the rural work-force. They believe that it could take three million farmers out of poverty and double their annual incomes. The Chinese government is keen to cash in on the economic potential of hemp production, and have stated that further plantations will be established in the Heilongjiang, Gansu, Anhui, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang provinces.

Hemp was once major of material used to make rope and coarse cloth. Over the last two centuries it has been replaced for ropemaking by abaca (Manila hemp) which is lighter and more resistant to water and for coarse cloth by jute. In the 20th century hemp, abaca and jute have all been replaced by synthetic fibers were invented. Hemp has also traditionally been used in making twine, paper, carpets, mats, diapers, oakum, sandals, and coarse textiles. It is still used to make strong twine, high grade belting and webbing and packing materials. Textile manufactures like hemp because it resembles linen and doesn't need a lot of chemicals to produce. In the United States, it is used to make Patagonia hemp jeans. In Europe, it is mixed with lime plaster to make “bio-composite” interiors for Mercedes-Benzes.

Laws and Crackdowns on Cannabis Use

According to Sensi Seeds: It is illegal to possess or use cannabis in China; and the substance has been largely demonised by the government. This is a relatively new attitude, as prior to the 1980s, most policemen turned a blind eye to cannabis consumption. Nowadays, the penalties for being caught with cannabis are severe. Offenders run the risk of receiving the death penalty for being in possession of just five kilograms or more. Additionally, strict sentences are imposed; anything from five years imprisonment to a life sentence. In some cases, however, cannabis users may only be detained for 10 to 15 days, and fined a maximum of 1,000 yuan. [Source: Maurice Veldman, LLM. Sensi Seeds, September 25, 2021].

“The China National Narcotics Control Commission even launched a digital campaign, targeting adolescents. This was part of a national effort to reduce cases of cannabis use among younger people. According to the Chinese government, there were fewer new drug users in 2018 than the previous three years. They reported a decrease of 63% compared with 2015, 56% (2016), and 43% (2017). It’s hard to verify these numbers, as they were not produced by an independent organization.

The Chinese government has also focused its attention on students studying abroad. One such example happened in Canada, where recreational cannabis use was made legal in 2018. Chinese diplomats issued a letter to Chinese citizens living there, urging them to avoid using cannabis. An excerpt from the letter reads: “In order to protect your own physical and mental health, please avoid contact or using marijuana.”

Some claim that parts of China are more relaxed than others. One Chinese citizen commented that “Shanghai is not a politically strict city...lots of Xinjiang people sell marijuana.” They added: “Some Xinjiangren sell weed outside the clubs and the police just walk by without caring.”

In March 2009, a Nigerian man who arrived at Beijing airport with a suitcase packed with 87 kilograms of marijuana got spooked by “tight security” and failed to pick up the suitcase in the baggage claim area but was arrested the next day when he showed up to claim the bag. It was the largest bust so far that year. Many of the drug dealer that operated in the Sanlitun area of Beijing before the Olympics were Nigerians, They would approach potential customers with the offer, “He, bro, You want some stuff?” In a pre-Olympics crackdown in the neighborhood in September 2007, police blocked each end of the main street and searched or hauled in every black person they could find. Many were beaten and arrested. Most had nothing to with drugs.

Jackie Chan's Son Arrested for Marijuana Possession in Beijing

In August 2014, Jaycee Chan, the actor son of Hong Kong action superstar Jackie Chan, was arrested on drug-related charges after several cashes of marijuana were found in his home. Associated Press reported: “Jaycee Chan, 31, was detained together with the 23-year-old Taiwanese movie star Kai Ko, Beijing police said on their official microblog several days after they were arrested, identifying them only by their surnames, ages and nationalities. Police said both actors tested positive for marijuana and admitted using the drug, and that 100 grams of it were taken from Chan's home. Jaycee Chan's management, M'Stones International, apologized to the public on his behalf for the "social impact" caused in a statement on their website. It said they would "supervise his rehabilitation and help him return to the right path." [Source: Associated Press, August 18, 2014 ^^^]

“Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired footage of a police search of the younger Chan's home in Beijing in which he is depicted, his face pixelated, showing officers where he stashed bags of marijuana. Police said they acted on a tipoff from the public. Chan is accused of accommodating drug users, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment — a far more serious charge than that of drug consumption. Two other people detained in the same case were accused of selling drugs while Ko is accused of drug consumption. ^^^

“The younger Chan, whose mother is former Taiwanese actress Lin Fang-jiao, was raised in Los Angeles and has appeared in some 20 films, most of them low-budget Hong Kong and Chinese productions. Also a singer and multi-instrumentalist, he has yet to enjoy anything like the global superstardom attained by his father. Most recently, the younger Chan had been had been working with famed Chinese director Chen Kaige on "The Monk" due for release next summer. Along with speculating about their entertainment careers, local media have questioned Chan's and Ko's continuing value as commercial endorsees. Such deals can be highly lucrative, but businesses in China demand their brand ambassadors maintain squeaky-clean images” [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 20, 2014]

China named the Jackie Chan an anti-drug ambassador in 2009. He was also a deputy to the top advisory board to China's legislature. “The elder Chan has apologized for his son's actions and said the two would work together to mend his ways. Ko, the Taiwanese star, was part of an anti-drug campaign two years ago, CCTV reported, showing footage of the campaign in which he joins other celebrities in a chorus declaring: "I don't use drugs." Ko was shown on CCTV, his face pixelated, tearfully apologizing to his fans and family. "I feel very regretful, very sorry to all the people who support me... I've been a very bad example, I've made a very big mistake," Ko said. In a statement online, his management company, Star Ritz Productions, said Ko had received a 14-day detention and also apologized to the public. ^^^

“Ko, whose real name is Ko Chen-tung, became a sensation after his 2011 film "You Are the Apple of My Eye," a box-office hit in Taiwan. He won Best New Performer award for his role in the coming-of-age movie at the Golden Horse awards in Taiwan, considered the most prestigious in Chinese-language cinema. He played the boyfriend of one of the protagonists in China-produced "Tiny Times 3.0," which appealed to young female audiences and knocked "Transformers 4" off the No. 1 spot as the most watched film after its release in the mainland last month. ^^^

Jackie Chan's Son Sentenced to 6 Months in Jail for 100 Grams of Cannabis

In January 2015, Associated Press reported: “A Chinese court says the son of actor Jackie Chan has pleaded guilty to providing a venue for drug users and has been sentenced to six months in jail. The Dongcheng District People's Court in Beijing says on its microblog account that 32-year-old Jaycee Chan also was ordered to pay 2,000 yuan, or about $320. Chan could have been sentenced to as many as three years in prison, but the court, Xinhua said, showed leniency because he had confessed and showed contrition. [Source: Associated Press, January 11 2015 ]

“Jaycee Chan has blamed his famous kung fu star father Jackie Chan for landing up in jail on charges of drug abuse. He has written a three-page letter saying his father neglected him during his young age instead of providing a guiding hand. The letter addressed to his mother, Joan Lin, has been released to the Chinese media after Jaycee pleaded guilty to the charge of taking drugs and inducing others to do so during his trial in a Beijing court. This is the first time that the 32-year-old actor has publicly rebuked his father. Jaycee said he had a carefree life because he was born in a celebrity family and had a father who was too busy with his career and paid little attention towards his son. Consequently, he has been a lot closer to his mother. He complained of "great invisible pressure" to succeed in life. His manager said that Jaycee's parents had not seen him for five months until his trial was aired live over the Internet on January 9.

After his son’s arrest Jackie Chan apologized to the public over his son's detention on drug charges and said he was ashamed and saddened. Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “The Hong Kong film star wrote on his microblog that Jaycee Chan would have to face the consequences of his actions, but that they would do so together. "Regarding this issue with my son Jaycee, I feel very angry and very shocked. As a public figure, I'm very ashamed. As a father, I'm heartbroken," Chan wrote. "Jaycee and I together express our deep apology to society and the public.” [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 20, 2014]

“Local media reported that the elder Chan and Ko's father traveled to Beijing to meet with their sons this week. The reports could not be immediately confirmed. Extending from his fame as an actor and singer, the elder Chan is a high-profile public figure in mainland China. "I hope all young people will learn a lesson from Jaycee and stay far from the harm of drugs," Chan wrote. "I say to Jaycee that you have to accept the consequences when you do something wrong. As your father, I'm going to face the road together with you."

In February 2015, Jaycee Chan was released from a Beijing jail after completing his six-month drug sentence. Associated Press reported; “A statement issued by Jaycee Chan's entertainment company said the 32-year-old actor and singer left the city's Checheng jail a few minutes after midnight, February 12, 2015. Photos showed chaotic scenes as reporters chased his car and surrounded it at a toll station. [Source: Associated Press, February 13, 2015]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.