China start­ing to cash in on the cannabis boom

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY STEVEN LEE MYERS

China has made your iPhone, your Nikes and, chances are, the lights on your Christ­mas tree. Now, it wants to grow your cannabis.

Two of China’s 34 re­gions are qui­etly lead­ing a boom in cul­ti­vat­ing cannabis to pro­duce cannabid­iol, or CBD, the non­in­tox­i­cat­ing com­pound that has be­come a con­sumer health and beauty craze in the United States and beyond.

They are do­ing so even though cannabid­iol has not been au­tho­rized for con­sump­tion in China, a coun­try with some of the strictest drug-en­force­ment poli­cies in the world.

“It has huge po­ten­tial,” said Tan Xin, the chair­man of Hanma In­vest­ment Group, which in 2017 be­came the first com­pany to re­ceive permission to ex­tract cannabid­iol here in south­ern China. The chem­i­cal is mar­keted abroad – in oils, sprays and balms as treat­ment for in­som­nia, acne and even dis­eases like di­a­betes and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. (The sci­ence, so far, is not con­clu­sive.)

The move­ment to le­gal­ize the mind-al­ter­ing kind of cannabis has vir­tu­ally no chance of emerging in China. But the eas­ing of the plant’s stigma in North Amer­ica has gen­er­ated global de­mand for medic­i­nal prod­ucts – espe­cially for cannabid­iol – that com­pa­nies in China are rush­ing to fill.

Hanma’s sub­sidiary in Shanchong, a vil­lage in a re­mote val­ley west of Kun­ming, the cap­i­tal of Yun­nan prov­ince, cul­ti­vates more than 1,600 acres of hemp, the va­ri­ety of cannabis that is also used in rope, pa­per and fab­rics. From the crop, it ex­tracts cannabid­iol in oil and crys­tal form at a gleam­ing fac­tory it opened two years ago, in a re­stricted zone next to a weapons man­u­fac­turer.

“It is very good for peo­ple’s health,” Tian Wei, gen­eral man­ager of the sub­sidiary, Hemp­soul, said dur­ing an in­ter­view at the fac­tory, which was punc­tu­ated by test gun­fire from the man­u­fac­turer next door.

“China may have be­come aware of this as­pect a lit­tle bit late, but there will def­i­nitely be op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fu­ture,” Tian said.

China has, in fact, cul­ti­vated cannabis for thou­sands of years – for tex­tiles, for hemp seeds and oil and even, ac­cord­ing to some, for tra­di­tional medicine.

The Divine Farmer’s Clas­sic of Ma­te­ria Med­ica, a text from the first or se­cond cen­tury, at­trib­uted cu­ra­tive pow­ers to cannabis, its seeds and its leaves for a va­ri­ety of ail­ments.

“Pro­longed con­sump­tion frees the spirit light and light­ens the body,” it said, ac­cord­ing to a trans­la­tion cited in an ar­ti­cle in the jour­nal Fron­tiers in Phar­ma­col­ogy.

The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, af­ter its found­ing in 1949, took a hard line on il­le­gal drugs, and cul­ti­vat­ing and us­ing mar­i­juana are strictly for­bid­den to this day, with traf­fick­ers fac­ing the death penalty in ex­treme cases.

Af­ter sign­ing the United Nations Con­ven­tion on Psy­chotropic Sub­stances in 1985, China went even fur­ther. It banned all cul­ti­va­tion of hemp – which had long been grown in Yun­nan, a moun­tain­ous prov­ince that borders Myan­mar, Laos and Viet­nam and is among China’s poor­est. Farm­ers pro­duced hemp to make rope and tex­tiles and China had banned it even though it has only trace amounts of tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol, or THC, the mind-al­ter­ing com­pound found in mar­i­juana.

At a news con­fer­ence in Bei­jing last month, Liu Yue­jin, deputy di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Nar­cotics Con­trol Com­mis­sion, said the mo­men­tum to­ward le­gal­iza­tion in other coun­tries meant Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties would “more strictly strengthen the su­per­vi­sion of in­dus­trial cannabis.”

The Hemp­soul fac­tory has dozens of closed­cir­cuit cam­eras that stream videos directly to the pro­vin­cial pub­lic se­cu­rity bureau.

China re­lented on in­dus­trial hemp only in 2010, al­low­ing Yun­nan to re­sume pro­duc­tion. Hemp then was used prin­ci­pally for tex­tiles, in­clud­ing the uni­forms of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, but soon the prod­ucts ex­panded.

The grow­ing in­dus­try has brought much-needed in­vest­ment to Yun­nan. The mild, spring­like cli­mate is ex­em­plary for grow­ing cannabis, and a farmer can earn the equiv­a­lent of $300 an acre for it, more than for flax or rape­seed, Tian of Hemp­soul said.

Hemp­soul is one of four com­pa­nies in Yun­nan that have re­ceived li­censes to process hemp for cannabid­iol, putting more than 36,000 acres un­der cul­ti­va­tion. Now oth­ers are join­ing the rush.

In Fe­bru­ary, the prov­ince granted a li­cense to three sub­sidiaries of Conba Group, a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany based in Zhe­jiang prov­ince. A com­pany based in the city of Qing­dao, Huaren Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, said re­cently it was ap­ply­ing for permission to grow hemp in green­houses, which al­ready line the landscape around Kun­ming.

Other re­gions have taken no­tice, too. In 2017, Hei­longjiang, a prov­ince along China’s north­east­ern bor­der with Russia, joined Yun­nan in al­low­ing cannabis cul­ti­va­tion. Jilin, the prov­ince next door, said this year that it would also move to do so. The flurry of an­nounce­ments sent the com­pa­nies’ stocks soar­ing on Chi­nese ex­changes, prompt­ing reg­u­la­tors to step in to re­strict trad­ing.

While the health ben­e­fits of cannabid­iol re­main un­cer­tain, the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion last year ap­proved the first use of it as a drug to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. Other po­ten­tial uses are be­ing stud­ied.

China per­mits the sale of hemp seeds and hemp oil and the use of CBD in cos­met­ics, but it has not yet ap­proved cannabid­iol for use in food and medicines. So, for now, the bulk of Hemp­soul’s prod­uct – roughly two tons a year – is bound for mar­kets over­seas. Tian said he be­lieved it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore China, too, ap­proved the com­pound for in­ges­tion.

Hanma’s am­bi­tions are global. It has ac­quired an ex­trac­tion plant in Las Vegas, which is ex­pected to be­gin pro­duc­tion soon, and it plans one in Canada. Tan, the chair­man, said he hoped that China, with the world’s largest mar­ket, would fol­low the lead of the United States, which he called “the best­e­d­u­cated” mar­ket for the ben­e­fits of cannabis.

“It’s a new ap­pli­ca­tion, but one that car­ries for­ward our tra­di­tion,” he said, cit­ing the an­cient texts de­scrib­ing its medic­i­nal pur­poses.

STEVEN LEE MYERS NYT

Cannabid­iol “is very good for peo­ple’s health,” says Tian Wei, the di­rec­tor of Hemp­soul, a fac­tory in Shanchong, in the Yun­nan prov­ince of China.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.