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Marijuana Seizures Surge in Hong Kong

Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images

You can make an argument for Hong Kong, the former British colony turned international banking and cultural center, as the most liberal place in China.

With that statement, you would also likely offend some people, in both mainland China and in Hong Kong: While the city is officially part of China under the “one country, two systems” situation, Hong Kong has its own autonomous government, semi-democratic politics and capitalist economy and independent currency. And as you may have heard, there are an awful lot of people in Hong Kong who don’t take kindly to direction from Beijing.

But one thing Hong Kong has in common with the mainland is a total prohibition of drugs.

Some would argue it’s a cultural thing, as “recreational” drugs are what led to the Chinese having to hand over Hong Kong Island to the British in the first place. Nevertheless, the people of Hong Kong are like anyone anywhere else: They like to get high, and there are an increasing amount of opportunistic cannabis cultivators willing to risk life imprisonment to satiate that need.

Marijuana seizures by Hong Kong police doubled in 2015. And as the South China Morning Post is reporting, last week, police recorded their biggest bust in more than 10 years: 1,300 cannabis plants, discovered in three houses in what amounts to the Hong Kong countryside.

While 1,300 plants would be a big bust in the United States (and eligible for 10-year mandatory minimums under federal law), it’s titanic in Hong Kong, where domestic marijuana production is admittedly small-time by marijuana legalization era standards. Police seized a total of 255 kilograms of cannabis in Hong Kong in 2016—about a day’s worth of sales in Colorado.

To say drugs are punished severely in Hong Kong would be to say that Hong Kong apartments are somewhat small. Murdering someone in most U.S. states is punished less severely: Sales can be punished by a fine of up to $5 million Hong Kong dollars and life imprisonment. Cultivation of cannabis is punishable with a prison term of up to 15 years, and mere possession can earn you seven years in a Hong Kong dungeon.

That said, if you do find yourself in Hong Kong and need some cannabis, there are a few tried-and-true courses of action

One: Wander around the maze of Chungking Mansions in Kowloon, and by the time vertigo and claustrophobia have set in, someone will have offered you some. Another: Loiter around the expat-friendly bars in Lan Kwai Fong on Hong Kong Island, and a nice young man from West Africa—quite possibly an asylum-seeker, who without the right to work legally, has no other means of sustenance—may approach you with a proposition. What you do afterwards is your own business. We certainly can’t recommend planting any spare seeds you may find.

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