Hong Kong's CBD ban leaves businesses facing ruin

CBD in HONG KONG

THE CBD in HONG KONG

As Hong Kong takes its first steps to crack down on cannabidiol (CBD), companies specialising in CBD-infused beers, coffees and other products are scrambling to see what's next.

An unregulated market for products containing the cannabis-derived compound has flourished since the city's first CBD café, Found, opened in July 2020. The Asian financial hub now has dozens of cafes and shops selling CBD, but a government proposal to ban the substance by the end of the year puts these businesses at risk.

"With a total ban on CBD in Hong Kong, we would be forced to probably mothball the Found brand as it exists today," said Fiachra Mullen, marketing director at Altum International Ltd, which owns Found and supplies CBD products to other businesses in the city.

Although cannabidiol has no psychoactive properties, consumers claim that the compound relieves anxiety, stress and pain. It has become a multi-billion dollar global industry in recent years, with products ranging from snacks and gummies to oils and cosmetics. CBD is legal in the US and parts of Europe, as well as in some Asian countries such as Thailand and Japan. However, it has been banned in mainland China since last year.

Hong Kong authorities point out that the compound can break down naturally or be intentionally converted into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the substance that gets marijuana users high, which is illegal in the city.

High temperatures or direct sunlight can cause CBD to break down into THC, according to Dr Michael Fieldman, MD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Hong Kong.

"If CBD is not stored properly, it can cause this type of degradation," he said, adding that ingestion of THC can cause psychotropic or gastrointestinal side effects.

According to Mullen, Altum tests its products to ensure they are THC-free. "We have gone to as many as four labs to test each of our products before they are shipped," he said.

Tammy Tam, co-founder of the CBD plantB beer brand, said her company only uses products that are certified THC-free and "go beyond the government's compliance level."

Many consumers use CBD in the hope of improving sleep, treating pain and improving general well-being. A recent study found that the substance reduced the severity of chronic anxiety in young people. But Fieldman said there was no concrete evidence of its benefits and that most countries that have legalised CBD-based drugs only use them for rare medical conditions, such as severe forms of epilepsy, or multiple sclerosis.

Dr Calvin Ho, co-director of HKU's Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, expects Hong Kong authorities to ban CBD for pragmatic reasons. "In terms of health issues or concerns, the government is likely to be precautionary," he said.

When the ban was discussed on 7 June, the authorities said they intended to "introduce the relevant legislation by 2022." For companies focused on CBDThis could mean the beginning of the end.

"It is our only income from sales," said Tam de plantB. A ban would leave him "no choice but to close the business".

On the other side of the globe, Swiss companies working in CBD ( SWISS MADE WEED ) continue to grow and produce the best CBD products on the market. Perhaps in the future they will be able to deliver their products to Hong Kong.

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