China farms a massive amount of hemp and currently holds more than half of the globe’s cannabis patents.
As Canada prepares for the legalization of cannabis this fall, its poised to become an international leader in the booming industry. But one unlikely competitor may stand in its way: China.
According to the South China Morning Post, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reports that the country’s farmers produce half of the world’s cannabis in the form of industrial hemp. Since the early 2000s, the country’s government has been interested in the use of hemp in herbal remedies as well as in clothing for the military. Today, farmers who largely grow in the country’s arid northern provinces harvest massive amounts of hemp for use in textiles and pharmaceutical companies.
The massive spike in China’s hemp growth comes at a time when Canada’s cannabis industry is supplying medical cannabis for countries like Germany and Australia while operating grow ops in Denmark and Colombia. But Canada’s global cannabis dominance could soon spark a rivalry with China.
According to an internal memo obtained by the CBC in the spring, Chinese officials demanded that the Canadian government curb its illegal cannabis exports which its officials claimed were flooding Chinese streets. The memo was a response to Canada’s demands that China crack down on fentanyl fueling the opioid crisis in North America.
In addition to the massive amount of industrial hemp its farmers are growing, China is moving to patent its way into the international cannabis industry.
Marijuana growing in a Yi village above Weixi in central Yunnan province. The female variety of the Indian Hemp strain, these plants are flowering – forming “buds” that contain seeds for reproduction. Unlike other forms of marijuana used for smoking, these plants contain very little THC, the chemical that initiates intoxication. The ethnic Yi people who have grown these plants in their backyard eat the seeds as a snack—it is believed to be highly nutritious. The locals were shocked to hear that in some countries, good quality marijuana can be worth more than gold.
An analysis of UN patent data, conducted by Quartz, shows that China holds more than half of the 600 international cannabis patents that have been filed, which include various methods of administering the drug from oils to patches.
The one thing that seems to be standing in the way for China is that cannabis is illegal in the country. Drugs, in general, are highly taboo in China as a result of what is known locally as the “Century of Humiliation.”
In the late 1800s, the British Empire flooded China with Indian opium, crippling the country and allowing it to be colonized. The memory of that period, known as the Opium Wars, has stuck with China’s citizens to this day and resulted in some of the harshest drug laws in the world.
According to China’s Law on Public Security Administration Punishments, trafficking, smuggling or growing marijuana could result in 15 years in prison or even the death penalty, depending on the severity of the crime and the amount that is smuggled.
Still, if China has patented cannabis-related innovations, they could be lying in wait to take advantage as more countries to legalize.
As Andre Bourque writes for Forbes, “China’s farmers don’t pose an immediate threat to U.S. marijuana markets. They have no official or practical trade route. However, as with all things in the People’s Republic of China, anything can change at the whim of the leadership.”
After all, China has a long history with weed. According to a study published in 2008, plant matter identified as cannabis was found in nearly 3,000-year-old graves. Cannabis was only made illegal in China in 1985, when the government signed onto the United Nations treaty designed to control psychoactive drugs around the globe.