China couldn’t be accused of having the most straightforward ideology in the world. The fact that it is both the world’s largest communist nation and also one of the biggest players in global capitalism leaves most people who aren’t sociology or economy experts scratching their heads.

Added to the country’s list of seeming paradoxes is its relationship with cannabis. On one hand, weed is very, very illegal in China, where possession is literally punishable by death. On the other hand, it also operates a very, very big cannabis industry which is somehow regulated.

China currently contains about half the legal commercial hemp cropland in the world and the country holds more than half of the world’s 600 cannabis patents, according to reporting in the South China Morning Post.

For years, cannabis crops were still illegal, but tolerated by Chinese authorities, the industry being so huge that it was feared a crackdown would prompt a powerful revolt among farmers.

Last year, as the global demand for legal cannabis ballooned after legalization in U.S. states and Canada, China decided to legalize and regulate hemp cultivation. The government is reportedly even playing an active part in the industry. Tan Xin, president of leading Chinese cannabis company Hemp Investment Group, told the Post he has teamed up with the People’s Liberation Army to help distribute his company’s products and technology internationally.

Amazingly, as the Chinese government has itself gotten into the weed industry, it has shown no softening in its other cannabis policies, recently releasing a statementto Chinese citizens in Canada warning them to “fully understand the harmfulness of cannabis products.”

Photo via Flickr/Maja Dumat