Hong Kong is poised to become the marijuana investment capital of Asia, according to executives at the city’s first ever cannabis investor symposium on Thursday.

The CannaTech cannabis investor forum, held at the five-star W Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, aimed at showcasing global investment opportunities in markets where the substance is legal.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Organisers from Arcview Group told HKFP that Hong Kong was selected as a financial hub to kick-start Asian investment opportunities.

There is only one problem. Under the 1969 Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, anyone who cultivates cannabis in Hong Kong is liable to a fine of US$100,000 and imprisonment for 15 years under the 1969 Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.

As a result, no marijuana was allowed on the premises and local authorities were notified about the event in advance.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a recreational drug containing the psychoactive ingredient THC, or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol – a substance responsible for the user’s “high.” It also contains another non-intoxicating ingredient known as CBD, or cannabidiol, which is used to treat a host of medical problems, from epilepsy to chronic pain relief. While cannabis sativa, a species of plant that produces cannabis, can be cultivated to create industrial hemp for textiles, biodegradable plastics, biofuel and food.

According to CannaTech, the cannabis industry is the fastest growing market in the word and is expected to generate US$57 billion worldwide by 2027 as demand continues to increase.

A financial hub

Brian Sheng, general partner of ArcView Group, told HKFP that Asian countries have begun to open up to investment opportunities in marijuana: “The reason we’ve decided to come here is that Asia, while traditionally opposed to cannabis, has opened up to the idea that medicinal marijuana can be permissible,” he said.

“We chose Hong Kong because we feel that Asia is important and Hong Kong is a good place to start a conversation around cannabis, given its high amount of Western exposure and its attitudes towards free speech.”

Brian Sheng, general partner of ArcView Group. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Saul Kaye, founder and CEO of iCAN Israel cannabis investment, told HKFP that that Hong Kong was the next step in curating global investment opportunity towards the Asian market: “We’re always asking where we’re going to go next,” he said. “Chinese investors are into cannabis so Hong Kong was a natural choice to us as a gateway to change regulation in China.”

“There is definitely less conversation [here] into the cultivation of cannabis and more interest with clinical trials to treat medical problems like chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease.”

Kaye added that Chinese investors have focused their interest on manufacturing cannabis for large-scale use: “Four years ago, no one was talking about cannabis. Now, there’s been a boom,” he said.

Philip Gu, founder and CEO of Stemcell United Limited, told HKFP that China is at the forefront of cannabis investment given its history in cultivating the plant: “China is one of the earliest countries in history to grow cannabis,” he said. “It’s not a foreign substance to humans, so this boom [in investment interest] is normal.”

China has cultivated cannabis for centuries, dating back to the 4th century where Taoist texts cited marijuana as a ritual incense-burner.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.