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China's cannabis sector expands —amid anti-drug police state

Posted on January 11th, 2019 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

ChinaA Chinese delegation to Israel to explore cooperation in the cannabis sector points to the East Asian giant's growing footprint in the global industry. But in a continued contradiction, the People's Republic has possibly the harshest drug laws on Earth—and, where unsanctioned use by the commoners is concerned, cannabis is no exception.

The People's Republic of China is well positioned to dominate the global market in the therapeutic cannabinoid CBD—and its business leaders and scientific establishment are hoping to make good on this, despite a deeply entrenched political taboo against cannabis.

China is the top exporter of industrial hemp to the United States, as well as providing an impressive third of the total global supply. This means there is a high probability that the CBD product used by stateside consumers was made with Chinese hemp oil. And China's industry leaders are now looking to foreign sources for actual THC-laden cannabis as well.

Delegation to Israel
A delegation of Chinese entrepreneurs and agricultural researchers this week arrived in Israel to meet with local counterparts working in the field of cannabis . On the agenda is a tour of top figures in Israeli academia and industry involved in developing new products and medicinal applications for the plant. The delegation was reported by CTech, Israel's tech-sector financial news site, and also picked up Caixin, the Beijing-based business media giant.

The Chinese delegation intends to seek "scientific collaborations" in Israel, said Ascher Shmulewitz, chair of Therapix Biosciences Ltd, a company based in the industrial district of Gush Dan, outside Tel Aviv, where it is developing cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical products. Shmulewitz is accompanying the Chinese researchers during their tour.

The delegation comes just after the Israeli Knesset approved export of cannabis and medical marijuana products, although the measure still awaits the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

'Industrial Cannabis Eco-Park' in Yunnan
China is shows no sign of following Israel in allowing production of high-THC cannabis for research or medicinal purposes—that is, "medical marijuana." But research with that procured elsewhere is underway.

"Medicalization is already happening in China and the Chinese government is encouraging medical cannabis research," said Saul Kaye, founder and CEO of iCAN (which stands for Israel Cannabis), a company that hopes to cash in on the new export opportunities. "China has a rich botanical medical history and cannabis was historically used as a Chinese herb," Kaye told Nikkei Asian Review.

At the forefront of China's emerging cannabis industry is CannAcubed, flagship firm of the Industrial Cannabis Eco-Park in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province. CannAcubed has recently started producing CBD for export to Europe, along with its line of hemp textiles and garments.

But while operations are based in China's hemp cultivation heartland of Yunnan, the company's corporate headquarters are in Singapore, and there appears to be much foreign money involved. "It's a very exciting time right now in this sector, and the industry is moving at lightning speed,” CannAcubed co-founder and CEO Glenn Davies told Asia Times.

He admitted, however, that "raising capital for a cannabis company headquartered in Singapore and [with] operations in China comes with its challenges."

China's cannabis contradiction continues
But in a continued and deepening contradiction, China is hailed as an emerging "cannabis superpower" even as its government runs perhaps the world's harshest anti-drug police state. Chinese consulates even issued a warning to Chinese nationals living in Canada not to indulge in cannabis after the stuff became officially legal there in October.

China leads the world far and away in use of the death penalty—including for drug offenses. This reality is currently making headlines due to the outrageous case of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian who had been sentenced to 15 years for drug trafficking by a court in the northeast city of Dalian, and was ordered to stand retrial—with prosecutors saying that his sentence had been too light. In a one-day retrail on Jan. 14, he was given a death sentence. Schellenberg has always maintained that he was an innocent tourist, and was framed.

As the New York Times reports, Schellenberg's retrail is widely seen as retribution for Canada's December arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese technology company Huawei, at the request US authorities who accuse her of helping the company evade sanctions against Iran. (China earlier detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor on spurious and secretive grounds of "endangering state security.")

But while foreigners who face the firing squad in China win global headlines, thousands of Chinese every year suffer this fate in anonymity.

China last year revived the grotesque spectacle of drug convicts sentenced to death before hundreds of public viewers in stadiums. It was part of the official campaign recognizing the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, June 26. Two accused men received the verdict in a sports stadium in Haikou, capital of the southern island province of Hainan—before being swiftly put to death. Many of the hundreds of spectators were young students bused in for the lugubrious ritual, wearing their school uniforms, according to a video released by official media.

The two men sentenced in Haikao were convicted on charges concerning methamphetamines or "magu"—a mix of meth and caffeine. The unfortunate Schellenberg was also convicted on meth charges. But you can still face execution for cannabis in China, too. According to a report in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, the quantities sufficient to land you before a firing squad are 10 kilograms of resin (hashish) or 150 kilograms of herbaceous cannabis.

And if more people are executed for meth than cannabis, that is only because the prior is far more readily available than the latter—itself testimony to the absurdly counter-productive nature of the prohibition regime.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Graphic: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

 

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