Hong Kong’s Underground Marijuana Culture is Booming

Apr 16, 2018

In Hong Kong, marijuana is highly, highly illegal, with jail sentences and fines comparable to those of opium, a drug that historically had devastating effects across the far east. Last year there were a number of reports of a growing marijuana crackdown in the city. Possession charges can lead to fines equivalent to 128,000 U.S. dollars and seven years in jail, while charges for growing cannabis (like opium) can result in fines of 13,000 US dollars and a whopping 15 years in jail.

Last year the South China Morning Post reported that police seizures were dramatically up. “Police figures show cannabis seizures in the city increased by 96.2 percent to 255kg last year from 130kg in 2015. Local law enforcers seized 99kg of cannabis in 2014 and 85kg in 2013.” Interestingly, however, convictions for serious drug offenses, on the whole, were down.

A quick google search for marijuana in Hong Kong, marijuana culture in Hong Kong, and the like will bring up mostly (in English at least) articles about how illegal it is, or the latest police bust. Or one or two travel sites with dubious tips on where to buy your stash and how much it might cost. (One site says to go to Kowloon City, say you’re looking for ‘West Africans,’ “and definitely one of them will link you up.”)

Hong Kong became a special administrative region in China twenty years ago. Although the densely populated territory retains some remnants of its former status as a British territory, Hong Kong’s residents are now subject to many of the laws of mainland China. As Merry Jane’s Christel Escosa says, “It isn’t China, but it is.” Escosa explored the growing use of marijuana among the city’s youth in a video piece for Merry Jane.

Marijuana is definitely something apart from mainstream culture in China, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Being such a global city, it’s popular among expats, and the culturally savvy younger generation. It’s also popular in the local hip-hop scene. Many young Hong Kongers are embracing it with gusto, according to Escosa, while elders, most of whom still see marijuana as a serious and harmful drug, are often oblivious. One teen told Escosa on camera that he smokes it at home, in the bathroom or even the kitchen around his parents, knowing they won’t even recognize the smell.

Meanwhile, marijuana is also more common, likely among a wider spectrum of age groups, in the expat community. Many are, of course, westerners from countries and cultures which are more forgiving of the drug. Escoso spoke to an expat who said she didn’t know any locals who partook. The expat also laughingly admitted to being blissfully unaware of the local legality or lack thereof.

The youth culture, however, is where cannabis is really taking hold, and as they mature this trend may be what has the most significant effect on the acceptance of cannabis in Hong Kong. Although, as Escosa says, “The green diletantes of Hong Kong are arguably mostly hip hop herbalists without a cause,” they could still have a profound effect.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

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