As from 1 February 2023 Hong Kong will ban cannabidiol (CBD), including all products containing CBD. CBD will be added to the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance (DDO) and will join over 200 substances already listed in the ordinance (including fentanyl, ketamine, heroin, and many psychoactive compounds, eg lysergamides). CBD will be added with the already covered “cannabinol and its  tetrahydro derivatives (THC); and their 3-alkyl homologues.” Following this change, anyone who possesses or consumes CBD faces up to seven years in jail and fines of up to HK$1 million (about US$128,000). Manufacturers of CBD may also face life imprisonment.

While many users around the world have been promoting the anxiolytic and pain-relieving properties of CBD, Hong Kong's Security Bureau has taken the view that such claims “lack authoritative scientific proof”. This directive appears to be in line with the ban imposed in China last year for the use of CBD in cosmetic products.

From the Government reports it remains unclear as to whether other cannabinoids (e.g., CBG, CBDV, CBC, etc.) will be included in the ban.  However, from the Narcotics Division memorandum of 18 November 2022, the main concern of the Government appears to be with CBD products that may contain some THC, either “through decomposition or conversion”, and the lack of international regulation of such products.

This change in policy and legislation will no doubt be a set-back for many businesses in Hong Kong who were promoting and selling products containing CBD, such as tinctures, cosmetic products, as well as edible products and drinks comprising CBD. It does appear that with better international regulation and scientific data it is conceivable that the policy around CBD may change again in the future. Therefore, given that there are no restrictions in HK for pursuing patent protection for CBD and related technologies, it remains prudent to maintain patents and pending applications in HK for CBD-related innovations should the position in HK change, as we have seen in other countries in the region, such as South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

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