How Difficult Is It to Get Cannabis in China?

Article by Gregory Heilers, Merry Jane


One hears about China’s legendarily harsh anti-drug laws, but is it really so awful to try to get high in China? Paradoxically, in a country with some of the tightest drug laws in the world, hashish and marijuana can be bought and sold on the streets of a megalopolis like Shanghai and dirt-road villages alike, usually with only slight concern for legal repercussions. Cultural eccentricities aside, buying cannabis in China is a largely familiar and comfortable scene to anyone who’s had to buy illegally elsewhere.

Buying on the Street, Just Like Back Home
Foreigners walking down the popular pedestrian shopping mall Nanjing Dong Lu (南京东路) in Shanghai are half-accosted by Uyghurs and other “laowai” (foreigners) trying to make a quick buck: “Hats, coats, hashish?” A quick stop to buy a kebab from a roadside stand, and the man at the grill offers you hash. Dealers are often more brazen than buyers, so one might take a bit of precaution before making a transaction.

In a nation whose ideal is having more closed circuit cameras than George Orwell could have ever imagined, it’s wise to head for an un-filmed spot before exchanging cash for goods. Don’t be too disappointed, too, when your dealer, trying to avoid police scrutiny, pulls hash out from his underwear hiding spot.

While there are language barriers, complex conversations are not necessary when the range of goods on offer is limited. Buying marijuana (大麻; “DaMa” in Mandarin Chinese) in China won’t often net you high-grade hydro, so you’ll need to be comfortable with smoking hashish. Since you’re most often buying from Uyghurs, you’ll rarely hear the term “DaMa,” so the terms “hashish,” “hash,” and sometimes a garbled “hashmish” are the nomenclature in use.

Uyghur people are an ethnic minority, apart from the dominant Han, that have embraced marijuana as a resource. That role is a double-edged sword however, as their reliance on selling hashish has earned them a stigma as drug dealers, not unlike certain groups in urban America. For a foreigner looking for hash, though, it is a plus that Uyghurs speak Mandarin Chinese as their second language, too, as you’re in good company.

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