Cannabis in China

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Cannabis by the roadside, Jiuquan, Gansu

Cannabis in China is illegal since 1985. However, hemp grows in China, and historically has been used for fiber, as well as for some ritual purposes within Taoism.


In the 19th century, the majority-Muslim Xinjang region was a major producer and exporter of hashish, with Yarkand being a major center.[1] Tens of thousands of kilograms annually were exported to British India, legally and under tariff, until 1934 when Chinese authorities cut off the legal trade, though smuggling continued for some years after.[2]

Legal status[edit]

In 1985, the People’s Republic of China joined the Convention on Psychotropic Substances and identified marijuana as a dangerous narcotic drug, and illegal to possess or use it. The penalty for marijuana possession in China is disputed from various sources, but according to the Law on Public Security Administration Punishments, marijuana smokers shall be detained for 10 to 15 days and fined a maximum of 2,000 yuan.[3]


Cannabis plants are widely grown in Yunnan Province, especially around the city of Dali.[4] However, the Yunnan government began an eradication campaign in 1998 to make the province “cannabis free” by 2000, resulting in less wild and commercially grown cannabis. A similar campaign has also caused a rise in marijuana prices in Xinjiang province.[5]


According to the Ministry of Public Security in 2015, cannabis use was on the rise among Chinese youth.[3]


Beginning around the 4th century, Taoist texts mentioned using cannabis in censers. Needham cited the (ca. 570 AD) Taoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao 無上秘要 (“Supreme Secret Essentials”) that cannabis was added into ritual incense-burners, and suggested the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with “hallucinogenic smokes”.[6] The Yuanshi shangzhen zhongxian ji 元始上真眾仙記 (“Records of the Assemblies of the Perfected Immortals”), which is attributed to Ge Hong (283-343), says:

For those who begin practicing the Tao it is not necessary to go into the mountains. … Some with purifying incense and sprinkling and sweeping are also able to call down the Perfected Immortals. The followers of the Lady Wei and of Hsu are of this kind.[7]

Lady Wei Huacun 魏華存 (252-334) and Xu Mi 許謐 (303-376) founded the Taoist Shangqing School. The Shangqing scriptures were supposedly dictated to Yang Xi (330-c. 386) in nightly revelations from immortals, and Needham proposed Yang was “aided almost certainly by cannabis”. The Mingyi bielu 名醫別錄 (“Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians”), written by the Taoist pharmacologist Tao Hongjing (456-536), who also wrote the first commentaries to the Shangqing canon, says, “Hemp-seeds (麻勃) are very little used in medicine, but the magician-technicians (shujia 術家) say that if one consumes them with ginseng it will give one preternatural knowledge of events in the future.”[8][9] A 6th-century AD Taoist medical work, the Wuzangjing 五臟經 (“Five Viscera Classic”) says, “If you wish to command demonic apparitions to present themselves you should constantly eat the inflorescences of the hemp plant.”[10]

Joseph Needham connected myths about Magu, “the Hemp Damsel”, with early Daoist religious usages of cannabis, pointing out that Magu was goddess of Shandong‘s sacred Mount Tai, where cannabis “was supposed to be gathered on the seventh day of the seventh month, a day of seance banquets in the Taoist communities.”[11]

Special administrative regions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Journal of the Society of Arts. The Society. 1871. pp. 647–.
  2. ^ S. Frederick Starr (4 March 2015). Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland: China’s Muslim Borderland. Taylor & Francis. pp. 364–. ISBN 978-1-317-45136-5.
  3. ^ a b Lin, Li (September 8, 2015). “The lows of getting high”. Global Times.
  4. ^ Allen, Greg (May 1, 1999). “China High”. Cannabis Culture.
  5. ^ Labrousse, Alain; Laniel, Laurent. The World Geopolitics of Drugs, 1999/1999.
  6. ^ Needham and Lu (1974), p. 150. From ancient Chinese fumigation techniques with “toxic smokes” for pests and “holy smokes” for demons, “what started as a ‘smoking out’ of undesirable things, changed now to a ‘smoking in’ of heavenly things into oneself.”
  7. ^ Needham and Lu (1974), p. 152.
  8. ^ Needham and Lu (1974), p. 151.
  9. ^ Rudgley, Richard (1998). The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances. Little, Brown and Company.
  10. ^ Joseph Needham, Ho Ping-Yu, and Lu Gwei-djen (1980). Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology; Part 4, Spagyrical Discovery and Invention. Cambridge University Press, p. 213.
  11. ^ Needham, Joseph. 1974. Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology; Part 2, Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Magisteries of Gold and Immortality. Cambridge University Press, p. 152

Further reading[edit]

  • Alain Labrousse; Laurent Laniel (29 June 2013). The World Geopolitics of Drugs, 1998/1999. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 85–. ISBN 978-94-017-3505-6.
  • Li, Hui-Lin (1974). “An Archaeological and Historical Account of Cannabis in China”, Economic Botany 28.4:437–448
  • Touw, Mia (1981). “The Religious and Medicinal Uses of Cannabis in China, India and Tibet”. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 13 (1): 23–34. doi:10.1080/02791072.1981.10471447. PMID 7024492.