Marijuana being sold on e-commerce site Taobao, report says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 7:13pm

They say you can get anything online in China these days – from your fake vanity iPhone “logins” to quirkier purchases such as rental boyfriends/girlfriends and names for unborn children.

But the legally-ambiguous stuff are the most interesting. Smuggled milk powder from Hong Kong, a hot commodity these days, fetches higher prices by the day. A tin of this tax-free white powder will cost more than 300 yuan (HK$385) to 400 yuan online depending on which US brand you buy, a markup of roughly 20 per cent.

Craving a Pyongyang? No, not the chain of restaurants or the mobile phone brand of the same name - the totalitarian country’s capital also gives its name to a brand of cigarettes manufactured by the Pyongyang Paeksan Tobacco, a joint venture formed by Chinese and North Korean interests.

Paeksan brand cigarettes will cost you about 45 yuan per carton on e-commerce site Taobao, while Pyongyang brand cigarettes are more expensive at 50 yuan per carton. Here's the catch: the cigarettes are only sold as "cigarette packaging" on the website. It is not known whether cigarettes are included in the final product.

Packs of DPRK-manufactured “Ox bezoar” (ox gallstones or cattle gall bladder bile) used for removing body toxins are also available for about 750 yuan.

The latest e-commerce sensation is, however, more dubious than smuggled cigarettes. A reporter from the Southern Metropolis Daily recently alleged to have attempted – and succeeded – in procuring a gram of cannabis online for a cool 100 yuan, via Alipay. 

It took three days for the “home delivery service”, and the product came in sealed foil usually used for packaging dried tea leaves. The reporter just had to type in a few so-called “black words” into a search bar, said the report.

An Alibaba Group spokeswoman told SCMP.com that the sale of cigarettes and illegal drugs was strictly prohibited on both its e-commerce platforms, Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com.

"We have a large internet security team tasked with filtering such items using technological and manual means, but we also welcome users to report any listings so that they can be removed," she said. "Any sellers found to be listing such items will be penalised immediately.

According to the Daily, which handed the contraband to police for investigation, the discovery is the “first reported case of marijuana trading over the internet in years”.

Online forums and social networking sites such as Baidu Tieba, Tencent Qzone and Douban were now the key covert “gathering points” for marijuana and other drug users to discuss purchasing, drug experiences and even cultivation, the report said.

Drug users and vendors would communicate using drug “jargon” and “secret codes” that would bypass internet censors. Illicit drug names including “marijuana”, “ketamine” and“ecstasy” are banned on Baidu and weibo, but Chinese slang words such as “ice skating” (crystal meth) and “postage stamp” (LSD) are used.

The report, quoting experts from drug treatment centres, said cannabis was a more convenient drug to purchase and tended to be cheaper, leading it to become a “pop” drug amongst many of China's young. Opiates such as heroin and synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines, ecstasy and ketamine, however, still account for most of the drug addiction cases across the country, according to Xinhua.

Long and porous borders with several neighbouring countries has long made China a major transit route for trafficked drugs coming in from Southeast and Southwest Asia.