Marijuana in China

Does anyone remember when there was no weed to be had in China?

For years the only reliable thing a smoker could get his hands on was the sandy Taklamaklan Tan, served up by your local lamb skewer proprietor. Joints of that stuff made your head ache and provided a dull high. It was tough to get that dry sand to burn properly. Then for a while travelers would come up from the Southern Silk Road with a bag of seedy shake and tales of “weed bushes 2 meters tall, growing wild in the streets of Dali…” – even then the smoker’s circle was a confined one. Travelers only, with a smattering of local hippies. The supply was sporadic and the quality was always poor. Few people were actually growing their own and those who were did it for personal use only.

Weed in Dali

Marijuana growing wild in South China’s Yunnan province

Then those hippies turned their friends on to it and we had small time dealers, setting up shops in obscure locations or just sitting at the local joint, waiting for a friend of a friend to sidle up and ask about a gram or three. Selling weed became a business, and not just a luxury to be enjoyed every now and then. Some people made good money, and turned their tax free cash into regular businesses. In fact, I remember a group of scallywags rolling up joint after joint and selling them out of cigarette packs at the old Reggae Bar (RIP) just to make rent. They made enough to buy tickets out of China to San Francisco, where they eventually ended up on weed farms, making that big big weed money. So the tales say anyway.

Those days of scrimping dust off of the table and rolling lopsided spliffs are over and we are all grateful for the current state of supply.

Good weed is not hard to get anymore. I take pride in the fact that I witnessed the transition from schwag weed to kind bud both in the US and here in the PRC. But with good weed and a flourishing community of smokers come other issues. In the US there is the grey area between legal and illegal that has spawned an ingenious society of growers, sellers, and buyers that have collectively made the weed legal in 14 states and counting.

Here in China, we had the hey day of free weed smoking. I saw cops light joints at music festivals. People smoked publicly – within reason – and had little fear of being arrested and thrown in jail. Even if a cop or a random passerby asked about that smell, you could always brush it off as “American Tabacco” or just “my medicine”.

Well it looks like those days might be ending too.

The Chinese authorities have caught on and in typical fashion, they’ve gone on and labeled weed a dangerous, addictive drug and the dealers that sell it delinquents and a threat to harmonious societies everywhere.

A Warning

China burning weedA Nanfang Daily report on marijuana, “Investigation on the Internet Marijuana Trade,” details a reporter’s efforts to buy marijuana online, via QQ, Tieba and Douban groups. The reporter posed as a buyer and a seller, lurked on forums, and chatted with dealers selling weed for 100RMB/gram plus delivery fee.

“In this month long investigation, the reporter found that social media platforms such as Baidu Tieba, QQ group, and Douban group have become gathering places for users and dealers … dealers contact buyer via Q, buyers order online and the goods delivered by express mail.”

The article goes on to mention common mis-conceptions about marijuana, such as smokers gaining inspiration from the weed, or that weed is not addictive.

“Doctors warn: marijuana is addictive and can do serious harm to one’s health. It’s cheap and easy to get. We should be vigilant that it does not become the new popular drug.”

Interesting, isn’t it? How the same processes repeat themselves over and over, regardless of culture, nation, or epoch.

Watch Your Back

Granted this is only one article, but if marijuana is in the Chinese media, then the government is taking notice. Police across the nation probably have a copy of this article on their desks – along with pounds and pounds of other documents – attached to vague directives on how to handle the problem.

In the old days, you could more or less count on the police not caring about or not recognizing marijuana as a drug. But according to Chinese law, both heroin and marijuana are in the same category. Sound familiar to any of you Americans out there? I would imagine that some regions – especially larger cities and the southwest – may have specialized drug police who have samples of weed (the current supply strain most likely) and a list of locations, QQ numbers, and members of Douban groups that may be smoking or dealing marijuana.

Marijuana suspect in China

You don’t want to be this guy.

The article specifically targets Internet dealing, which is interesting, because the vast majority of the dealing I have seen is done face to face. I didn’t even consider that weed could be sold and delivered, by locals to locals, via Internet platforms. It’s kind of breathtaking to watch the game proceed so fast. The demand seems to be growing among locals, which is a great improvement on the previous drug of choice: stepped on ketamine mixed with meth and lord knows what other white powders, but the government doesn’t see it so.

The Internet angle makes me wonder too, about the desire of the Chinese authorities to control something increasingly uncontrollable. This story about weed on the Internet came out the same day as a story on a new requirement prohibiting registered Internet companies and journalists from re-posting foreign media content without prior approval.

I don’t really see a crackdown on marijuana a la Strike Hard in the tea leaves, but I would definitely watch my back if I were in the weed game. Nobody wants to be made an example of.

Weed as a Symbol

Something that every weed smoker knows, but may elude some police, is the power of weed as a symbol of rebellion and disenfranchisement. Drug use in general tends to be anti-authoritarian, but weed in particular tends to gravitate to where the rebels be, even if it’s just around a seed-covered living room table. I wonder if that plays any role in this. Heroin and ketamine in China were also big, in their own time, but heroin users tend to keep to themselves and ketamine sniffers stick to the KTV rooms, where their cop buddies can shield them from harm.

Weed is a people drug, harmless and engaging for the most part, with the worst case scenario being a slight paranoia and inability to communicate with strangers. But weed can spark discussion, and that’s bad for oppressive governments.

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About Sascha

Sascha Matuszak is a writer and commentator on domestic and international culture and politics. He's lived in Chengdu on and off for twelve years and currently makes his home in the South of Chengdu.

44 Responses to “Marijuana in China”

  1. Weed is easier to get in China than most countries. Just head to your local Xinjiang restaurant.

    • I have heard people mention that before – I suppose because that is a part of Xinjiang culture. I have also seen old men (like 70 years old) smoking what must be hash in the area between train cars on long trips, but always and only Xinjiang natives.

    • Actually, this isnt about Xinjiang guys and that period of “just head to your local …” is over. They don’t slang like they used to. And even if they do (and they do still smoke), its to cater to the new smokers. Which this article is about and written for: young Chinese, laowai. the hip people that are part of a global toke culture.

  2. I remember being excited about traveling to Dali last year, rumored to have a strong smoking culture and covered in wild weed plants. When I got there, I asked some of the local rasta-looking youths about it and they gave me the bad news. The cops had been cracking down on it hard making it increasingly more dangerous for casual users. That was upsetting.

    Out of Beijing, Shanghai, and the Du, I’m glad to be living in the city that I have found it easiest to obtain quality herb.

  3. Interesting that it took the government so long to catch on…since history seems to be repeating itself, how long before the medical marijuana movement that is happening in the US, happens in China?

  4. “But weed can spark discussion, and that’s bad for oppressive governments.”

    what the fuck am i reading

    • thanks for your awesome insight, really contributing to this discussion!

      Speaking of which, discussion is bad for oppressive governments, people who normally wouldn’t get together and talk getting together is bad for oppressive governments, any sense of rebellion that forms bonds is bad for authoritarian regimes… there are a lot of small things that weed smoking (or any common practice not regulated by the government) can contribute to community, which in turn is the biggest buffer to intrusive, oppressive authority.

      “Drug use in general tends to be anti-authoritarian, but weed in particular tends to gravitate to where the rebels be, even if it’s just around a seed-covered living room table.”

      so yeah, weed smokers are traditionally viewed as stuffing their faces with cheese pizza and watching movies they can’t remember, but there are other ways to enjoy the drug as well.

  5. There are a few dozen interesting comments on this post on Reddit here: http://www.reddit.com/r/China/comments/1cumqw/marijuana_in_china/

    One of the funnier ones:

    “If this disappears from China every English teacher is going with it.

    NO WEED= NO ENGLISH

    Suck on that, China”

  6. In Shanghai for what I noticed if you want to buy marijuana you just have to go in Yongfu Lu or at the corner between Chenglu Lu and Fumin Lu.

    The xinjianese will keep asking you “Marijuana? Hashish?”

    But I don’t smoke weed so I don’t know about prices/qualities.

    It’s interesting to notice how this is different from Beijing where the San Li Tun market seems to be controlled by black guys (or at least this is what I’ve perceived by walking there).

    Great article, quite informative!

  7. I tried weed in China (Beijing) twice and both times it was pretty bad quality compared to Thailand, Laos, Philippines or Europe, so is it really posible to find weed in Beijing for reasonable price? Because I find Beijing prices high, while quality is low (which is quite common combination for almost anything in China).

  8. This article is funny, very funny. Funny because I’m from (and in) Brazil. Looking at your situation is maybe looking at our past.
    Here, today, it’s already becoming part of the culture. The police can arrest someone that’s smoking, but when the person gets free (and usually doesn’t takes more than a few hours), the person will smoke again. If you put on rehab, you will spend a loooot of money, time, the person will need to agree and there is no warranty it will stop smoking after leaves. So it’s becoming usual to see “hey police, I don’t want them smoking marijuana in front of my house, can you warn them to go to another place?”.
    Protests to legalize it have had more people, muuuuuch more, than protests against corruption.
    Also, I don’t know on China, but here it’s not easy to see someone 18 years old who never smoked anything, and veeery rare to see someone who completed the university without smoking anything. You can’t buy heading to local here, but there is always someone that smokes/sells or know someone that do.

  9. I’ve converted my legalization protest tags to chinese language. I doubt many folks in China have been to my site, but if they’re looking for trouble:)

    http://untiltheweedisfreed.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/little-trouble-in-big-china/

  10. I heard that if a day it happened to you to be arrested because of weed, there is still a opportunity to “buy” cops!

  11. I have read Chinese farmers grow “Hemp” and make “a high quality Hemp Seed Oil; I guess Hemp is cultivated legally there…!

  12. I’m not sure where this article gets its information. But I think the average Chinese person wouldn’t even know what cannabis is. Or, they know about hemp, but it is rarely used for smoking.

  13. Crystal meth is the drug of choice for Chinese it seems.

    Also opium is still quite popular. Most rural farmers grow poppies. Not sure how much opium gets smoked, but it is an active ingredient in hot pot broths.

    As fore medical weed, I think that it is a part of TCM. Used to work near a hospital and the air exchange vents always filled the street with weed smoke. Went in once to investigate and found an entire floor of weed smokers.

  14. sorry plz contact wechat id : cathyminnn

  15. This is honestly pretty fascinating. I thought that marijuana in China would be a similar situation to Singapore – just off the map completely. Kind of good to hear otherwise.

  16. I want weed in Shanghai. i dont know where to buy weed? plzzz give me information.

  17. I always thought the uyghurs were smoking some kind of naughty cigarettes…

  18. If you are looking for weed, and posting here, you need to look harder.

    • Its difficult for expats who dont know anyone to locate it. Im living in Kunming and have been trying to find clues for where to get it…I went to a shop while walking around today in the markets and there was a store with a bunch of rasta colored items and covered in images of weed leaves. Ive gotta think its findable here but for an expat who speaks very little Chinese, its hard to know what the boundaries are and who is safe to ask.

      • Dude, Yunnan is weed central. Go to the Halfway House and hang out there for a while, meet some people, get some weed. Go to Dali, hang out, meet some people, get some weed.

        In Shanghai as well, the Uighers are aggressive sellers of hash so you can always get it. Xintiandi is a good place to walk around and get offered stuff. In Beijing its the Africans, they have it on the street. If you don’t feel like dealing with street dealers, then grow your own.

        People in China are growing their own and there have been several busts in Chengdu this year. People are going to jail for this and giving up their suppliers (and perhaps customers) … it hasn’t made a big splash in our community because we keep it pretty tight around here and the community is small enough that the police don’t really care.

        Chinese police tend to focus on: Uighers, Blacks, Internet dealing, Large scale dealing. If you can slip through these cracks, you are “safer” but one of the points of this article was to quietly point out that it is not as safe as it once was.

  19. Sascha would you please link some of the news articles regarding the weed busts in
    Chengdu this year because I find it interesting tracking the development of the cannabis culture in China. I really think that its spreading slowly but at an increasing pace, I wonder what will happen to weed in China after a few years!

  20. Hi Sacha, great article. Any advice on the scene in Ningbo?

  21. hi sacha how u doing can you tell me where should i go for sum stuff in shanghai

  22. My friend in Chengdu can get it in his building.

  23. This is a great article.

    Howdy y’all, living in Orlando, FL but lived in China for 4 years.

    In regards to Ningbo, I lived in a city kinda close to there. The high speed train goes to a city called Taizhou. The district is Lu Qiao. Tell a taxi driver ” Lu Qiao Bin Guan “.

    Next to the Bin Guan is a Xin Jiang restaurant. Ask to see the Laoban. Give him a hand symbol like a ” hang loose” symbol but put your thumb towards your mouth like you are smoking.

    Be discreet though but if you are a foreigner, the Laoban will take care of you. I got some really nice pollen described well on this site for a good price.

    Sasha, I speak Chinese and my wife is Chinese. I am moving back to China for business. It may be Cheng Du which I have never been. I have a question for you: How humid is it there? I have been to Yunnan, and how does ChengDu’s growing conditions differ if someone wanted to farm there?

    Thanks in advance.

    Best,

    Ryan

  24. Hey Ryan,

    It gets real humid here, and stays that way pretty much all year. Cold humid/hot as hell humid. Stuff grows really well here, naturally it gets better the higher up you are, but in Chengdu you can get a decent yield off of any well treated plant. Some purp is possible, if it gets cold enough, and if you have roof access in the summer you will have some massive plants.

    • Thanks for the info Sasha. I should be back in February or March to pick out a quiet town and tie it down.

      BTW I found your blog by searching on Google “sell weed to foreigners in China” and your blog is the first thing to come up.

      Also I lived in Yunnan for a while and I saw a land race strain there but it seemed as if it was influenced by equatorial sativa varieties from Laos and Thailand. I was hoping for a pure hash plant influenced by the afghani line. Maybe I just need to keep looking or bring my own when I go back.

      Take Care Y’all.

  25. Where do you get your seeds? Do you bring seeds of the THC bred potent western varieties to China or do you find that the native wild plants growing in abundance is enough?
    Do you just smoke the buds or do you make hashish?

  26. shinichi

    Marijuana in China still has a long way to go, Especially in politics, may the legalization of marijuana need longer time than alcohol and tobacco

    The traditional media still say marijuana is drug,and wearing a “crime” hat

    “marijuana temptation”-Investigation – Shandong satellite TV
    http://news.cntv.cn/2013/12/05/VIDE1386239160281573.shtml
    http://news.cntv.cn/2013/12/05/VIDE1386239042414453.shtml
    http://video.sina.com.cn/v/b/121018989-1576026353.html

    last year,when I and some young person heard this in a bar. A foreigner friend would shoot a documentary, about marijuana in Chinese and world situation
    I think, it is necessary to let more people know about this documentary

  27. You really did not understand the Chinese. Where to obtain high-quality weed is not difficult.

  28. Fascinating article, thanks for posting it. I honestly had no idea that a subculture like this existed in China, let alone had room to flourish in its own way.

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