Cannabis has been listed as a Category 2 narcotic in Taiwan for many years, along with coca, amphetamines and certain opioids. With the strictest of laws and stiff penalties in place for drug offenses, cannabis use in Taiwan remains a taboo subject, even though the country is renowned for progressive stances on issues such as LGBTQ rights and human rights abuses. But with the legalization of cannabis in Thailand in June 2022, many Taiwanese people are now calling for the decriminalization of medical and recreational cannabis in their country. Until then, though, many people in Taiwan, especially those who suffer from anxiety and depression, have started turning to cannabidiol or CBD. In June 2020, Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare clarified that CBD, a compound found in the cannabis plant, is legal in Taiwan for both medical and personal use, provided that it contains no more than 10 parts per million of the psychoactive compound THC, which can give users a high. However, since CBD is classified as a pharmaceutical drug, it can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. Since there are no domestic pharmaceutical companies in Taiwan selling CBD products, consumers have to buy them abroad or import them from other countries. Joyce Wu, who runs the small CBD business called WeHemppy from her home in New York, is part of the growing industry that caters to Taiwanese demand for CBD from overseas bases. She spent months researching CBD brands and lab-testing products to ensure that they did not exceed Taiwan’s THC limit, which is much lower than the US standard. Wu said that it is their job to educate people that CBD is safe and would not make you dizzy or high. Despite calls for the decriminalization of cannabis by some Taiwanese, the government in Taiwan remains staunchly conservative on cannabis. In March, authorities carried out their largest-ever marijuana bust in Taoyuan, confiscating more than 4,000 plants with a market value of $41m. From a young age, Taiwanese people are taught about marijuana in school as a gateway drug that can easily lead to harder drug habits and violent crime. It is no surprise then that politicians in Taiwan are reluctant to touch the subject of cannabis decriminalization, says lawyer Zoe Lee, who deals with cannabis cases and advocates for legalization. She also chairs Taiwan’s Green Party and ran for the Legislative Yuan in 2020, as well as for the city council in 2022, making cannabis reform a focus of her campaign. Taiwan’s government maintains a stance in line with the United Nations that argues cannabis use can cause mental and physical health conditions – even though many countries and US states in recent years have loosened restrictions based on research asserting its safety for medical use. Advocates say Taiwan has had no reason to make changes to the law because it remains a minor issue among the general public. In conclusion, while the legalization of cannabis in nearby Thailand has rekindled the hopes of Taiwan’s pro-cannabis groups, the country remains a long way behind its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia that have recently decriminalized cannabis. The slow-moving nature of the Taiwanese government, which has maintained a staunchly conservative stance on cannabis despite growing support for reform, means that pro-cannabis citizens like Wu, Lee and Lai are finding innovative ways to get around the law by importing and selling CBD products. As time goes by, and attitudes towards the plant change, more people may start to demand change from the government to legalize cannabis, following the footsteps of the more liberal countries in the region.
As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article don’t reflect those of High Thailand.