SHANCHONG, China — China has made your iPhone, your Nikes and, chances are, the lights on your Christmas tree. Now, it wants to grow your cannabis.
Two of China’s 34 regions are quietly leading a boom in cultivating cannabis to produce cannabidiol, or CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that has become a consumer health and beauty craze in the United States and beyond.
They are doing so even though cannabidiol has not been authorized for consumption in China, a country with some of the strictest drug-enforcement policies in the world.
“It has huge potential,” said Tan Xin, the chairman of Hanma Investment Group, which in 2017 became the first company to receive permission to extract cannabidiol here in southern China. The chemical is marketed abroad — in oils, sprays and balms as treatment for insomnia, acne and even diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis. (The science, so far, is not conclusive.)
The movement to legalize the mind-altering kind of cannabis has virtually no chance of emerging in China. But the easing of the plant’s stigma in North America has generated global demand for medicinal products — especially for cannabidiol — that companies in China are rushing to fill.
Hanma’s subsidiary in Shanchong, a village in a remote valley west of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, cultivates more than 1,600 acres of hemp, the variety of cannabis that is also used in rope, paper and fabrics. From the crop, it extracts cannabidiol in oil and crystal form at a gleaming factory it opened two years ago, in a restricted zone next to a weapons manufacturer.
“It is very good for people’s health,” Tian Wei, general manager of the subsidiary, Hempsoul, said during an interview at the factory, which was punctuated by test gunfire from the manufacturer next door.
“China may have become aware of this aspect a little bit late, but there will definitely be opportunities in the future,” Mr. Tian said.
China has, in fact, cultivated cannabis for thousands of years — for textiles, for hemp seeds and oil and even, according to some, for traditional medicine.
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