Hong Kong’s commissioner for narcotics has attributed a 50 per cent surge in young people using cannabis to users thinking the drug is not harmful because of legalisation overseas.
Despite a 17 per cent reduction last year in the overall number of drug abusers in the city compared with 2018, the tally for cannabis was on the rise, according to the Action Committee Against Narcotics, which advises the government on drugs policy.
In 2019, 506 Hongkongers were taking the recreational drug, up 5 per cent on the previous year, according to the figures published on Monday. Of them, 228 were aged under 21, a 48 per cent rise from the 154 cases recorded in 2018.
Commissioner for Narcotics Ivy Law Chui-mei associated the increase with changes to the drug’s legal status abroad.
“Some overseas jurisdictions have legalised the recreational use of cannabis in recent years,” she said. “Products containing cannabis in different forms are available for sale in the local shops or online stores in these jurisdictions. Members of the public, especially young people, may have the misconception that cannabis is not harmful.”
Reverend Sam Cheng Chun-wah, director of drug treatment centre Christian New Life Association, agreed the recent legalisation of cannabis in some countries had reinforced the idea among young people that the substance was not particularly dangerous or addictive.
Cheng said: “They might think that other countries were legalising it and it was not so serious, and Hong Kong is backward is this sense.”
The narcotics committee chairman Dr Ben Cheung Kin-leung reminded people that cannabis is an illegal drug.
“Taking cannabis will cause addiction, hallucination, IQ loss, anxiety, depression and more. Members of the public should be clearly aware of the harmful effects of taking cannabis,” he said.
Customs officers seized 266kg (586lbs) of marijuana last year, an 88 per cent increase on 2018’s haul.
Most of 2019’s cases were detected at Hong Kong International Airport’s cargo terminal, as most of the drugs were airmailed from North America, where recreational use has been legalised in most cities. Canada legalised recreational use in October 2018.
Meanwhile, the figure for newly reported abusers of illegal drugs as a whole dropped by 11 per cent year on year, from 1,727 to 1,544.
Among them, 46 per cent were adults aged between 21 and 35. It took them an average of 5½ years since they first took the drug to be recorded as users under Central Registry of Drug Abuse, compared with 4.9 years in 2018, which the committee said was a sign the problem of hidden drug abuse continued.
Cheng said the trend for psychotropic substances would lengthen those abuse history figures because addicts were not as easy to detect as abusers of drugs such as heroin.
The total number of reported drug users in Hong Kong stood at 5,614 in 2019.
Heroin remained the most commonly abused drug, but the number of users recorded last year decreased to 2,872, a 21 per cent drop on 2018.
Methamphetamine, also known as Ice, remained the most common type of psychotropic substance abused, with the number of reported abusers falling by 18 per cent to 1, 291 from 2018.
Cannabis is classified as a dangerous drug, possession of which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a fine of HK$1,000,000 (US$128,000).
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This article Hong Kong’s drugs tsar links rising cannabis use among young people with legalisation overseas first appeared on South China Morning Post