Sunday 05 January 2014
Almost 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions including gout and malaria. Today, as the global market for marijuana experiences an unprecedented boom after being widely legalised, it is China that again appears to have set its eyes on dominating trade in the drug.
The communist country is well placed to exploit the burgeoning cannabis trade with more than half of the patents relating to or involving cannabis originating in China. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 patents relating to the drug.
About 147 million people – around 2.5 per cent of the world’s population – use cannabis, according to the World Health Organisation. And medicinal properties of the drug are increasingly being recognised. It can be used to treat conditions ranging from the nausea caused by chemotherapy for cancer patients and chronic pain to cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Last month, Uruguay became the first country to legalise marijuana in its entirety – from growing the crop to processing and use. Yesterday it appeared that a second South American country, Peru, could follow Uruguay’s example and legalise cannabis production. The former director of the Peruvian National Drug Control Commission, Ricardo Soberon, said: “The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade – a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others – is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results.”
Last week, the US state of Colorado decriminalised the recreational use of cannabis and people in Washington state have also voted to legalise marijuana, although stores are not expected to open until later in the year. Shares in companies involved in cannabis soared after Colorado’s move. One firm, MediSwipe Inc, had its stock jump by nearly 70 per cent on 2 January. The legal trade of cannabis in the US alone could be worth $10bn (£6bn) by 2018. And analysts say it is China that is once again at the forefront of exploiting new economic opportunities.
“Because cannabis in Western medicine is becoming accepted, the predominance of Chinese patents suggests that pharmaceutical sciences are evolving quickly in China, outpacing Western capabilities,” Dr Luc Duchesne, an Ottawa-based businessman and biochemist, wrote in InvestorIntel. “CTM [Chinese traditional medicine] is poised to take advantage of a growing trend. The writing is on the wall: Westernised Chinese traditional medicine is coming to a dispensary near you.”