Legal weed in North Korea: fact or fiction?

Legal weed in North Korea: fact or fiction?
Luke Sholl

Heard the rumours that North Korea might be a paradise for marijuana lovers? Click here for a close look at North Korea's view on weed.

North Korea has been made out to be many things, including a paradise for marijuana lovers. But are these rumours true? Is North Korea really tolerant about cannabis usage? To find out, it's important to disperse some of the myths circulating the internet.

Recent articles make North Korea out to be a paradise for fans of our most beloved plant, suggesting cannabis is widely available, tolerated, and even legal. But just how much of the rumours are true? Does North Korea really have such a liberal stance on weed?


“North Korea Smokes Weed Every Day, Explaining a Lot,” reads a headline on VICE. “North Korea Marijuana: Tourists Load Up on Legal Bargain Bags,” reads another on, an Australian news site.

Countless articles have circulated the Internet and social media feeds portraying North Korea as a smoker’s paradise. But just where do these rumours come from and how true are they?

In 2010, these rumours first started after Open Radio for North Korea, an American NGO, reported that the country was cracking down on methamphetamine while simultaneously taking a lax approach to cannabis and opium.

How the myths about cannabis in korea were born

Then, in early 2013, Vice published an article by Ben Tool, who described North Korea as “the most tight-lipped, conservative, and controlling country in the world [and] also a weed-smoker's paradise.”

Later on that year, another article by Darmon Richter, a young freelance writer from England made it into headlines once again. Richter’s article, titled On Smoking Weed in North Korea, detailed his experience in Rason, a city on the Northern border between North Korea, China and Russia, where he apparently bought a grocery bag full of weed for less than a dollar.

In 2016, more reports surfaced, this time of Chinese tourists buying “bargain bags” of cannabis in Rason, a city with a Special Economic Zone, which was set up in 1992 to attract foreign investment into the country. According to these reports, Rason also serves as the center of trade for extremely cheap weed.

Other stories also made it into Western news headlines, with some tourists claiming North Koreans commonly grew cannabis plants in their gardens. Some reports even went as far as to label cannabis legal in North Korea.


However, it seems these rumours are untrue. According to the country’s penal code, cannabis is a controlled substance just like cocaine and heroin. Sources from the Swedish embassy in North Korea (the middleman when it comes to North Korea’s relations with other countries like the US), claim that both the sale and consumption of cannabis is illegal and punishable.

The cannabis that is being sold to tourists in the Rason market and other parts of North Korea is most likely hemp, which has been grown industrially in the country since the 1980s and is often sold as a cheap alternative to tobacco.

This theory makes sense, with some of the previous reports listed above making special note of the poor quality of the weed supposedly bought in North Korea.

So, if you were ready to pack your bags and move to North Korea (if that’s even possible) to take up a new life of legally getting baked, we’re sorry to your dream bubble. Weed is illegal in North Korea and is likely to stay that way.

Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl

Fascinated by the wellness potential of nature, Luke has spent over a decade writing about cannabis and its vast selection of cannabinoids. Creating, researching and writing content for Cannaconnection, alongside several other industry-related publications, he uses strong technical SEO skills and diligent research to bring evidence-based material to thousands of unique visitors.