What drugs are illegal in China? What happens if I’m caught with them?





Chinese criminal law has designated opium, heroin, marijuana, cocaine and a number of other items as controlled substances, divided into two separate headings of ‘anesthetic drugs’ and ‘psychotropic drugs’. There are 118 anesthetic substances and 119 psychotropic substances under government control, and the unauthorized possession or use of any of them is a criminal offense. 

A number of commonly recognized drugs follow; note that this is far from an exhaustive list:

  • Amphetamines
  • Buprenorphine (used as a treatment for heroin addition and pain)
  • Caffeinum natrio benzoicum (a derivative of caffeine; it is only illegal if possessed in its pure form; beverages and items that contain caffeine, such as coffee and cola, are totally legal. Caffeine tablets are definitely illegal, however.)
  • Cocaine
  • Diazepam
  • Dihydroetophine
  • Heroin
  • Ketamine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methaqualone (known by the brand name Quaalude in the US and Mandrax in the UK)
  • Morphine
  • MDMA (aka ecstasy)
  • Opium
  • Pethidine (a morphine-like painkiller)
  • Triazolam (tranquilizer known under the brand names Apo-Triazo, Chloroxanax Halcion, Hypam and Trilam)

 

What happens if I’m caught with those drugs in China?

Anyone who possess illegal drugs, whether for personal use or with intent to supply, will face the following punishments, depending on how much they were caught in possession of. If the amount they are in possession of doesn’t reach the minimum threshold, they may face a lighter punishment such as a financial penalty or warning, but this is not guaranteed. Note that the table below is based on possession; if you are actually caught selling the drug then the amount required for a conviction is dramatically lower.

Additionally, in August 2014 there was an instance of police demanding urine tests at a Beijing music bar, and arresting those who tested positive. 

Drug name

Possession amount (lower)

Sentence

Possession amount (higher)

Sentence

Amphetamines (excluding methamphetamine)

20-100g

Up to three years in prison, up to one year in a detention house, or between three months and a year of surveillance, plus a financial penalty based on the amount of drugs you were caught in possession of.

 

100g or more

At least seven years in prison to life imprisonment, plus a financial penalty based on the amount of drugs you were caught in possession of.

Bupremorphone

None specified in law at present, but possession should be avoided.

None specified in law at present, but possession should be avoided.

Caffeinum natrio benzoicum

50kg-200kg

200kg or more

Cocaine

10-50g

50g or more

Diazepam 

100-500kg

500kg or more

Dihydroetophine 

2mg-10mg

10mg or more

Heroin

10-50g

50g or more

Ketamine

200g-1kg

1kg or more

Marijuana

30-150kg

(Cannabis oil 1kg-5kg, cannabis 2-10kg)

150kg or more (Cannabis oil 5kg or more; cannabis 10kg or more)

MDMA

20-100g

100g or more

Methamphetamine

10-50g

50g or more

Methaqualone

10-50kg

50kg or more

Morphine

20-100g

100g or more

Opium

200g-1kg

1kg or more

Pethidine

50-250g

250g or more

Poppy shells

50-200kg

200kg or more

Triazolam

10-50kg

50kg or more

 

What drugs are legal abroad but illegal in China?

There are indeed a number of medical and non-medical drugs that are legal in other countries but not China; a list of all banned substances (their chemical names, mostly) can be found towards the bottom of this webpage. However, if you are on any specific medication and intend to bring it into China, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether he or she knows of any problems, and if there are any authorities in your country that can give you an up-to-the-minute reading of the law.

It is, of course, always a good idea to bring any prescriptions and doctors’ notes with you when travelling abroad with medication of any kind, as well as the contact details of your doctor’s surgery, clinic or hospital.

 

How will being caught with these drugs affect my visa?

Chinese laws on illegal drugs apply to foreigners in China just as much as they do Chinese people. See the table above for details.

If you are caught in the airport or customs office, you will be denied entry to China. If you are already in China, then you are subject to the punishments listed above according to the amount of the drug that you were in possession of when caught.

The court or police will decide what penalty you will receive. If you are sentenced to be deported, then your visa will be cancelled; obviously if you receive a jail or detention period prior to the deportation then you must serve that first.

If you are not to be deported, your current visa will not be affected and you can still stay in China until your residence permit expires. However, you may find that applications for new visas or visa extensions are harder to get. If you were found with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use, generally speaking, the effect on your chance of getting a visa should be minor. However, if you were charged with intent to supply or transport large quantities of the drug, it will be very difficult to get a new one.

 

Do the medical tests for work visas check for drug use?

No, medical tests for work visas don’t check for drug use.

 

Useful Chinese words and phrases

毒品 dúpǐn Illegal drugs 
海洛因 hǎiluòyīn Heroin
可卡因 kěkǎyīn Cocaine
鸦片 yāpiàn Opium
大麻 dàmá Marijuana 
吗啡 mafēi Morphine
摇头丸 yáotóuwán Ecstacy
安眠酮 ānmiántóng Methaqualone
苯丙胺类 běnbǐngàn lèi Amphetamines
氯胺酮 lǜàn tóng Ketamine 

 

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