Is Legalization of Weed in North America a “Threat” to China?

It’s no secret that North America and China often bump heads on any given topic, but this time cannabis is at the center of attention. Beijing’s leading drug enforcement body announced a “new threat to China,” relating to a spike in the amount of drugs smuggled into the country. China has pointed fingers at the U.S. and Canada, and their legalization (albeit partial) of cannabis, for this sudden increase in cannabis trafficking.

The first cannabis dispensaries were inaugurated in Canada in October 2018. Back in the United States, as we know, it is legal to buy and possess cannabis in 10 states, and many others have decriminalized possession of pot or legalized its medical use.

On Monday, at a press conference held in Beijing, Liu Yuejin, deputy director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission, said that the number of cannabis users in China had grown by more than 25% in 2018, rising to about 24,000 people, and he blames the U.S. and Canada for it: “In two years, we have found increasing cannabis trafficked from North America to China,” said Mr. Yuejin, as reported by CNN, though he conceded there were “few cannabis abusers in China” relative to the total population.

The report stated that China had intercepted 115 packages sent through international postal parcels, containing a total of “55 kilograms (1,940 ounces) of cannabis and cannabis products” in 2018. Mr. Yuejin did not specify, however, how many packages had been shipped from North America.

His attack was largely focused on the fact that the smugglers seem to be mostly foreign students or students who had come home after working abroad. Most of the drugs had been transported through international express delivery.

China’s verbal attack isn’t a surprise. The government been heavily going after anyone in possession of any drug, and the punishment is severe: those caught smuggling or trafficking drugs, including foreigners, found with more than 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of a controlled substance can face the death penalty.

The country has stepped up its efforts to combat the sale of illegal drugs in recent years, and authorities in major cities, including Beijing, have been known to carry out spot drug tests at bars and nightclubs in a bid to clamp down on recreational drug use.

From the fentanyl crisis to the opium one, China and the United States have often pointed fingers at each other; cannabis is no exception. All we can do is wait for more concrete reports from China to quantify how much cannabis is actually arriving from North America, and how China plans to deal with the smuggling problem.

Emerald contributor since July 2019

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