Dec 03, 2019 06:32 AM

Exclusive: CBD Oil Sold on China’s E-Commerce Platforms Raises Regulation Concerns

A customer holds a jar of marijuana at the Lowell Cafe, a new cannabis lounge in West Hollywood, California, U.S., on Tuesday. Photo: VCG
A customer holds a jar of marijuana at the Lowell Cafe, a new cannabis lounge in West Hollywood, California, U.S., on Tuesday. Photo: VCG

Products containing cannabidiol oil, an essential part of marijuana, can be found on China’s three major e-commerce marketplaces, even though consumption of marijuana is illegal in the country.

Search results for cannabidiol oil, commonly known as CBD oil, on Alibaba Group’s Taobao, and Pinduoduo show multiple sellers offering “U.S.-imported” or “authentic imported” cannabidiol oil, claiming their products can help with sleeping, depression, inflammation and even bone growth and cancer-fighting.

To lure buyers, some sellers use marketing pitches such as “try the CBD oil Europeans and Americans are all using.”

Unlike the U.S., where the recreational use of cannabis is legal in many states, China strictly bans the use and sale of cannabis, even calling the legalization of marijuana in Canada and parts of the U.S. a “new threat to China,” sparking a spike in the amount of drugs smuggled into the country.

In the U.S., legalized cannabis oil sold on the market can contain no more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets people high. But some of the products listed on the Taobao, and Pinduoduo platforms do not provide information on THC level, making it difficult to identify whether they belong to the prohibited drug category.

CBD oil containing less than 0.3% THC it is not a controlled drug as it is not included in the list of narcotic drugs in China, but the importation of such products requires permits for psychotropic substances.


CBD oil products sold on Photo: Caixin

Some sellers on the e-commerce platforms know they are operating in a gray area and try to avoid problems by posting disclaimers. One seller on says in the product description that the cannabis oil is brought into China through overseas channels. Once buyers confirm their orders, no claims can be made regarding labels, origin or inspection reports, or on the ground that foreign products do not comply with China’s laws and regulations, the seller says.

If a seller knowingly smuggles in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances controlled by the state, he or she shall be suspected of the crime of smuggling drugs, said Liu Zhixin, a lawyer specializes in food.

After initial investigation, said it found that some sellers of CBD oil wrongly list their products under the category of food. The company said it will remove the unlicensed goods from its platform, deduct points from the sellers and continue to check other violators.

Pinduoduo said it will remove CBD oil from its platform after obtaining more information.

In response to a Caixin inquiry, Alibaba said Taobao has been strictly following laws and regulations on CBD oil containing more than 0.3% THC. It won’t tolerate any violation and will report any cases to law enforcement agencies, the company said.

Now CBD oil is still sold on Taobao and, but searching related products on Pinduoduo shows no result.

There is still a gap in the regulation of CBD in China, said Li Jianhua, a professor at Yunnan Institute for Drug Abuse. He suggested that relevant departments should strengthen supervision as soon as possible.

Contact reporter Denise Jia (

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