Cannabis in China – Laws, Use, and History

The Chinese flag and a woman harvesting hemp

Cannabis is viewed negatively in China, and it’s illegal to use or sell it. Despite this fact, the country’s hemp industry is booming; with Chinese companies owning over half of the world’s patents for cannabis-related products. Some experts have suggested that this marks a change in attitude for China and a relaxing of the laws in the future.

    • Capital
    • Beijing
    • Population
    • 1,438,836,000
    • CBD Products
    • Illegal
    • Recreational cannabis
    • Illegal
    • Medicinal cannabis
    • Illegal

Cannabis laws in China

Can you possess and use cannabis in China?

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.

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.”

Can you sell cannabis in China?

The sale or distribution of cannabis is also illegal. 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.

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.”

Can you grow cannabis in China?

It is illegal to grow cannabis in your home in China, and you may be prosecuted if you’re caught doing so. Despite this fact, China is the largest hemp producer in the world. It’s believed that it produces over 50% of the globe’s supply.

Is CBD legal in China?

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.

CBD oil bottles, CBD capsules and cannabis leaves

Can cannabis seeds be sent to China?

Although some stores do sell cannabis seeds in China, the law does not permit their sale. Sending them into the country via the post is also forbidden.  

Medicinal cannabis in China

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.

Now, in the 21st century, 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.”

However, other industry experts disagree; stating that the negativity surrounding cannabis, not to mention lack of education about its health benefits, are too much of a hurdle to overcome at present.

A person in goggles and a mask examining a cannabis bud

Industrial hemp in China

China has a huge industrial hemp industry. It’s the world’s largest producer by a significant margin, and exports hemp (and hemp products) across the globe. Demand from North America and Europe is particularly high.

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.

As for the Chinese government? They’re 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.

Farmers harvesting hemp plants

Good to know

If you are travelling to China (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

  • In spite of the tough laws regarding cannabis possession and sale, it is sold widely across the country. However, black-market cannabis is often poor quality and over-priced.
  • Numbers of people using cannabis and other drugs have increased swiftly in the 21st century. Experts believe this is due to the country’s growing prosperity; not to mention young people’s exposure to western culture, where drugs-taking is not regarded as such a taboo.

Cannabis history

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.

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.

The balance of Ma

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.

Cannabis cultivation in China

Cannabis is grown widely in China (despite the laws) and can often be found growing in the wild. Plants growing in the northern latitudes (where it’s colder) 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.

A person holding a small cannabis plant in soil in their hands

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.

Attitudes to cannabis

The government’s attitude to cannabis is clear – it is regarded as a damaging substance and should not be consumed under any circumstances.

However, younger people seem to adopt a different attitude. In some of the cities, cannabis-smoking is relatively common, especially among students and young adults. Rural communities still value the plant for its medicinal properties.

Will it be legalised in the future?

Some experts think it’s only a matter of time before China legalises cannabis for medical use. As the world’s dominant force in the medical cannabis market, it seems odd that they don’t already have a domestic industry already.

The Chinese government’s negative attitude to personal consumption means that it’s unlikely to be legalised for recreational use any time soon. It’s harder to predict what the future holds for medicinal cannabis. The government may make it legal based on cannabis’s integral role in traditional medicine, or may choose maintain their current tough stance.

  • Disclaimer:
    While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.


25 thoughts on “Cannabis in China – Laws, Use, and History”

  1. Great article, appreciate the read! I’ve got an interesting story to tell. I recently took a 6-month tour of Asia, starting with Hong Kong, then Thailand, Japan and China. I ended up traveling to Thailand three times and China three times, with multiple stops and transits from Hong Kong or Guangzhou. Packed in my check-in bag and hidden inside a flashlight I had stored a very potent THC cartridge. I had used it in Thailand and Japan and had brought into China via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Immigration checkpoint. Up until now, I had gone through a total of 7 Security checks and nothing was ever detected.

    With my second trip to Thailand, I had taken another 5 flights before finally getting nailed while transitioning from Guangzhou to Nanning. I had just gotten off my flight from Bangkok and was checking my bag for my 6th and final flight to Nanning when I was pulled aside and hauled back into the security room to help identify an object hidden inside the flashlight. Well, I pulled out the flashlight and handed it to them, they looked at it for a bit before asking me to open it and show them the contents inside. So, I opened it and while doing so I tried palming the cartridge, but they caught that and asked me to hand it over! They looked at it then asked what it was, I said that it was a special nicotine cartridge for my vape pen. Then they asked for a demonstration, so I hooked it up and took a small hit. After a bit of back-and-forth questions and answers, they asked me to put it in my carry-on bag and have security take a look before boarding my flight!

    I went straight to the men’s room but blocking the way were two heavily armed MP’s! I thought I was a dead-man, but I went ahead and walked between them and went into the nearest stall and disposed of the cartridge. Went to the restroom, washed my hands and face, then casually head towards the security check. I went through security just fine and I boarded my plane like nothing had happened, except for the fact that I was really shaken by this very terrifying experience in a Chinese airport, all alone and with no one to come to my aid!

    Fortunately, I escaped disaster, as I thought for sure I was going to be arrested and imprisoned for life and never to be seen or heard from ever again! I could only assume that the two security clerks running the check-in bag x-ray equipment were unfamiliar with THC cartridges and simply let me slide because they didn’t know what it was. Either that, or they knew it was a THC cartridge and decided to let me take my chances on the next level of security checks! It was a really good cartridge and I hated giving it up, but I just didn’t want to try my luck any further!

  2. Great article!, but as far as i’m concerned, CBD is legal in china, you can buy it online very easily, without thc of course.

  3. Graham Hooper

    Great article. I have met a friend from China who is anti cannabis. So the Drug propaganda has worked on many people. I will try to educate her… With the history of cannabis in China that has been withdrawn and withheld from the public after it was banned. 1985 destroy the history and knowledge and it will be forgotten.

  4. Nice blog and absolutely outstanding. You can do something much better but I still say this perfect. Keep trying for the best. Anyway, Hemp 86 is offering you a new way to smoke. Our cbd flower are a great alternative to traditional cigarettes. Smooth and non-addictive. Made from 100% hemp, they are all-natural.

  5. Excellent writing. You gather some information about this. I think we should continue research about marijuana, cannabis.

  6. We should change our attitude and think about cannabis or marijuana.
    Because nowadays the medical purpose of cannabis uses diplomatic signs.
    We should properly use this for medical purposes.
    We should make awareness among the people and analyze it in detail.

  7. pete wagner

    The region that most spawned the Chinese cannabis culture, the mountainous SW, also spawned Tao thinkers and Chinese martial arts. They flooded China with opium in throughout the 19th Century, while the Muslims concurrently moved into that region and shut down cannabis production. But the pendulum of time doth swang.

  8. 420 Snapchat

    You can get weed in the Chinese town of Dali, Yunnan. It is not amazing stuff but this is a really incredible town right next to a lake with a historic town. Great place to get buzzed.

      1. You can get weed in the Chinese town of Dali, Yunnan. It is not amazing stuff but this is a really incredible town right next to a lake with a historic town. Great place to get buzzed.

  9. Thanx for your article, this year is like nothing is found,dont know where I can get some info without the Google service.,i will try my chance here

  10. Duncan Crow

    Very close to the Sumerian account, which also had a list of herbs and domestic animals that were given or developed on-site by the gods. There’s a good chance that the agricultural revolution was focused enough to teach many farmers animal husbandry and botany; the huge breeding programs of the new homo sapiens sapiens and upwards crossbreeds required that the training be pretty thorough to avoid famine.

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hello Duncan, thank you for your comment 🙂

      I am not familiar with the Sumerian account, and I would like to know more. Is there a particular source or place that you would recommend for me to start with researching it? I agree with your point about the need for focus in the agricultural revolution also.

      Thanks again,

      With best wishes,


  11. This information is very good and useful. Thank you ! Your site is really great, useful and I learnt a lot of stuff here. Continue with the great job !

  12. I went to Dali back in 1996 and it was like Weed Paradise!!!

    Bought like 5KG of Orange Hair for US$50

    It was a good memory

  13. Steven Sexton

    So good to read something that is straight and to the point and not filled with half truths by misinformed minds and political rhetoric by those who don’t care about right or wrong .

  14. It’s interesting article that I can add a little too. I lived in China for 4 years. I can say that there are 3 “legal” PRC state controlled Hemp producers and that almost all of the fibre is for export. The oil is also exclusively for export too. Hemp resin and oil is still very controlled in the PRC and from what I was told, the Chinese people still cannot get products that contain the oil or resin, legally. Yes, that means no hemp body butter or body shop hemp oil…. it seems completely illogical to me! Yes, in Yunnan you do see a lot of Cannabis smokers – but all it takes is one Police officer who holds a grudge against you and you’ll see the inside of a jail cell and have to bribe yourself out or worse – get a long prison term. Over 20 grams of cannabis in your possesion and it’s execution…. plain and simple.

  15. Thanks for the nice read, it’s enjoyable to be able to find a well written article about a subject I was on whim to want to know more about.

  16. Is the wild form Ruderalis?Because in Hungary there are e lot of plants that looks like this.
    Maybe you can make an article about Cannabis in Hungary?And how many thc,cbd…ruderalis has?

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Maurice Veldman

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