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Is North Korea a Haven for Legal Cannabis?

North Korea is one of the most secretive countries globally and one of the most fantasised about. Rumours, misinformation, and misconceptions are rife.

The impossibility of getting in touch with North Koreans and the prohibition of the Internet in the country create a climate conducive to the birth and spread of the wildest rumours.

One of the most persistent of these is about weed.

Some say North Korea is a paradise for cannabis lovers. The plant grows freely in the cities as well as in the countryside, and that its consumption is usual and widely tolerated by the authorities, who would only tackle the consumption of “”hard drugs”” like cocaine or heroin.

Therefore, some people have started to dream of as yet unknown landraces, of unexplored territories, of extraordinary varieties born of the know-how of a population that has never stigmatised this plant, of the genetics of power and purity that cannot be found anywhere else.

But what is the reality? Is North Korea really a paradise for weed smokers?

Conflicting Testimonies on Cannabis Laws in North Korea

According to the American NGO Open Radio for North Korea[1], in 2010, the North Korean authorities carried out a crackdown on drug users in Hamkyungbuk-do. But cannabis and opium users were not worried because these were not considered drugs by the government.

According to Vice[2], marijuana is not considered a drug in the strict sense of the word in North Korea. As a result, the magazine says, its use is commonplace, with most people consuming cannabis as a cheap alternative to tobacco. Cannabis is reportedly consumed and sold freely throughout the country with no government interference[3].

But don’t jump on the first plane to Pyongyang. According to the newspaper, North Korean weed is not very potent. Moreover, it would be difficult for foreigners to access it. The local authorities know how stigmatised cannabis is in the West, and they do not want to give the image of a permissive country. The Huffington Post seems to have understood this when it published an article with a provocative title highlighting the contradictions of the North Korean government: When It Comes To Marijuana, North Korea Appears To Have Liberal Policy Of Tolerance[4].

There are endless testimonies of people claiming that cannabis is legal and common in North Korea. But we must face the facts. In the absence of precise knowledge of North Korean legislation, all we have are suppositions based on personal observations and testimonies, the value of which is questionable.

Indeed, there is evidence that cannabis is seen on par with other drugs in the country. Swedish diplomat Torkel Stiernlof, who resides in North Korea, states that “”There should be no doubt that drugs, including marijuana, are illegal here […] One can’t buy it legally and it would be a criminal offense to smoke it”” [5]

North Korean ‘Cannabis’ might not be Cannabis

How do we explain these contradictory testimonies? The Guardian[6] provides some interesting answers. According to the newspaper, the legend that North Korea is a paradise for cannabis enthusiasts was born of a misunderstanding. There’s confusion between hemp, cannabis, and ip dambae.

Ip dambae is extremely common and strongly resembles cannabis, hence the confusion. North Koreans who can’t access tobacco smoke it. However, there is one significant difference: ip dambae is not psychoactive. The director of the Young Pioneer Tours agency, Troy Collins, explains that he bought this hemp and does not contain THC and generate any high.[7]

Another likely source of confusion is the large production of industrial hemp, a crop widely promoted by the North Korean authorities. Unlike cannabis, hemp does not contain THC (or traces) and is therefore not psychoactive. However, the two plants look similar, and North Korea is one of the world’s leading hemp producers. When you know that hemp also grows in the wild in this secretive country, it’s not hard to imagine tourists gawking at fields of hemp stretching as far as the eye can see, developing fantasies and rumours that have no basis in fact.

Can North Koreans Smoke Cannabis Legally?

In conclusion, is cannabis legal and common in North Korea? Probably not. While hemp is undoubtedly very present in the daily life of North Koreans, it is doubtful that a regime as repressive and severe as that of Kim Jong-Un would tolerate marijuana. This oft-repeated claim is most probably just an urban legend. So if you want to consume quality cannabis, don’t risk getting into trouble with the North Korean government. has everything you need. It’s cheaper, less risky, and easier!

External References

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