Fears about cannabis abuse grow in Hong Kong after police seizures rise more than 200 per cent

Youth workers, police and psychiatrists express alarm after figures reveal surge in number of Hongkongers under 21 using the drug

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 10:14am

The amount of cannabis seized by Hong Kong police increased 238 per cent in the first 10 months of this year, sparking fears about a growing trend of abuse in the city.

One in seven of the Hongkongers arrested for possession in that period was aged 20 or below, the force has revealed.

The latest official figures on the problem also showed the number of people aged under 21 reported to have abused cannabis surged 50 per cent year on year in the first half of 2017, to reach 63.

Police and concern groups blamed the internet for the sharp increase in seizures of the drug, which totalled 757kg from January to October, saying false information was spreading online claiming the plant could boost creativity without causing harm.

Psychiatrists however warned that cannabis use could cause anxiety, hallucinations and manic behaviour, and a quarter of addicts suffered from such side effects years after quitting the drug.

According to the police narcotics bureau, the force saw 182 cannabis seizures in the first 10 months of the year – a 44 per cent increase on the same period in 2016.

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The number of arrests jumped 54 per cent, to 228, with 32 of those detained aged under 20.

“About 90 per cent of them used cannabis at home or at friends’ places,” said Bertha Chung Man-ling, senior inspector at the bureau.

She said online platforms, games centres and other entertainment premises remained common channels through which to obtain the drug, while some scored it from friends.

The cannabis seized by officers came in the form of plants, buds, oil and resin. It was usually found to have been smuggled into the city from North America or mainland China. Some was cultivated locally.

One gram of cannabis costs about HK$220 in Hong Kong, while HK$85 will buy a gram of buds.

Chan Man-ho, a supervisor with the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups’ youth crime prevention centre, said the organisation handled about 400 cannabis abuse cases every year, with the youngest user so far aged just 13. He said many young people first tried the drug in the early years of secondary school.

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“A marijuana cigarette costs around HK$80 which is cheaper than other drugs such as ketamine. Normally one joint is shared among a group of friends. Consuming half already gives you an instant reaction,” Chan said.

“It is easier to get cannabis as information is flooding the internet. Some countries have legalised its use which has misled people to believe the drug is not dangerous or addictive.”

Dr Cheung Wai-him, the youth group’s consultant psychiatrist, said cannabis was addictive and hampered one’s ability for self-control. Some users also became delusional, he said.

The worst case he had seen, Cheung said, was a patient in his early 20s who developed schizophrenia after using the drug just twice.

“Schizophrenia could be triggered by the consumption of cannabis and is a long-term illness that makes you lose some body functions,” Cheung said. “Once the symptoms emerge, we have to alter the strategies of therapy for an addict.”

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Police in January seized their largest haul of cannabis buds in a decade, confiscating a 180kg consignment worth almost HK$29 million.

Manufacturing cannabis or any other drug included in the city’s Dangerous Drugs Ordinance is deemed the most serious of all drug-related offences. Any person who cultivates any plant of the genus cannabis faces a HK$100,000 fine and 15 years in prison. Trafficking the drug to Hong Kong can also result in a prison sentence.