China’s Cannabis Contradiction

On June 26, International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, China’s Supreme People’s Court announced with pride that 39,762 have been sentenced for drug-related offenses in the People’s Republic the first five months of 2014, up more than 27 percent for the same period last year.

The official state news agency Xinhua reported that a total of 9,168, or about 23 percent, were sentenced to more than five years, life imprisonment, or death. A quoted SPC official made much of a growing drug problem. “Drug-related crimes have been spreading from bordering and coastal areas to the country’s inland,” said deputy jurist Ma Yan. South China’s Guangdong province, with its booming export zones and free-wheeling capitalism, has topped the list since 2007. Yunnan and Guangxi, bordering Southeast Asia’s opium-producing Golden Triangle, also continued to report high rates of drug-related crimes. But such cases are also mushrooming in inland Chongqing and northern Liaoning, Ma said. No breakdown was provided of the substances in question, but a proporiton of the cases certainly included cannabis.

Yet such draconian policies are not keeping China from cashing in on the global boom in legal cannabis products. A January report in The Independent noted that according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 global patents relating to cannabis — more than half! “Because cannabis in Western medicine is becoming accepted, the predominance of Chinese patents suggests that pharmaceutical sciences are evolving quickly in China, outpacing Western capabilities,” Dr. Luc Duchesne, an Ottawa-based businessman and biochemist, wrote on InvestorIntel. “CTM [Chinese traditional medicine] is poised to take advantage of a growing trend. The writing is on the wall: Westernized Chinese traditional medicine is coming to a dispensary near you.”

Many of the Chinese patents are for herbal treatments. One, filed by the “Yunan Industrial Cannabis Sativa Co” (as The Independent renders it), refers to an application for a “functional food” made from cannabis seeds, designed to improve the human immune system. Another, by researcher Zhang Hongqi (apparently based in Hong Kong), is for a “Chinese medicinal preparation” for treating peptic ulcers, with cannabis seed among the ingredients. Another filing is for a constipation treatment that includes “fructus cannabis” (meaning the seed, again) as well as bitter orange, Chinese angelica and balloon flower. The applicaiton boasts of “obvious curative effects.”

The company seeking the “functional food” patent actually seems to be Yunnan Industrial Hemp Inc, whose products also include “fructus cannabis oil,” marketed as a “high-quality skin-care oil.” The company is based in the Kunming National Economic & Technical Development Zone, an industrial ring outside Yunnan’s provincial capital.
So far, only one company in the world has developed cannabis-based medicines that have been recognized by regulators in the West: GW Pharmaceuticals, based in Wiltshire, UK. This is the firm that produces Sativex for the treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and cancer pain, and Epidiolex for childhood epilepsy. Cannabis-related trade wars and disputes over intellectual property rights seem to loom when China inevitably starts demanding access to Western markets. Meanwhile, despite ultra-draconian enforcement, China seems be advancing more rapidly than the USA in allowing industrial research and seeking patents related to the cannabis plant.

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