Effective from 1 February 2023, cannabidiol (CBD) is classified as a dangerous drug under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (DDO).
CBD products can be found in goods such as food, beverages, beauty products, health supplements and pet food. Some of these products claim that they can help reduce stress and relieve anxiety and chronic pain. Prior to this new law, the import of CBD into Hong Kong, other than pharmaceutical products containing CBD, was largely unregulated, and there were no requirements for traders to declare products that might contain CBD.
Under the new law, it will now be a criminal offence under the DDO to possess, consume (e.g. ingest), traffic (including import and export), and manufacture products containing CBD. This is subject to exemptions granted by the Director of Health under any relevant licenses and permitted use by certain authorised persons such as registered medical practitioners. Persons convicted of such offences may be subject to maximum penalties of:
HK$1 million and imprisonment of seven years (for the possession and consumption offences), and
HK$5 million and life imprisonment (for the trafficking and manufacturing offences).
The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department (Customs) have said that it will step up enforcement action to intercept import and transit movements of CBD products, and will continue to apply its risk assessment strategy to select passengers, cargoes and postal packets for clearance to combat transnational drug trafficking activities. On 8 February 2023, a week after the new classification, Customs made their first arrest over CBD products concerning an import of two bottles of CBD oil from Denmark.
The background to this legislative control is that the Government believes CBD has a risk of being contaminated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive substance found in cannabis which has already been classified as a dangerous drug. In an earlier Legislative Council brief published in October 2022, findings from the Government Laboratory revealed that pure CBD was "very difficult" to be isolated from cannabis and that there is a risk of contamination by THC. Further, CBD may naturally convert to THC. The Government also concluded that notwithstanding the above, the claimed health benefits of CBD "lack authoritative scientific proof".
As different jurisdictions take different approaches on CBD products (e.g. some jurisdictions do not impose a legislative ban on CBD products), suppliers and retailers of goods, especially those in the food and beverage (including health supplements), beauty and pet food industries should pay extra attention to their existing and future stock to ensure that none of their products for Hong Kong contains any amounts of CBD. They should also carefully review their product packaging and labels to rule out any CBD ingredients.
Authored by Eugene Low, PJ Kaur, and Ryan Cheung.