Here we go again. The Weed Blog was last week the latest to repeat the urban legend that cannabis is legal in North Korea. Earlier this year, the same click-bait nonsense was heard on a YouTube video produced by TopTrending.com. The mis-informed line goes like this (in the Weed Blog's gushy prose): "North Korea doesn’t consider marijuana a drug at all, and is completely legal in the country. [Sic] That's right. I can repeat that: marijuana is completely legal in the country of North Korea." You can repeat it all you want, but that doesn't make it true. It's an absurd irony that probably the most cannabis-unfriendly country on Earth has won a rep as a free zone where the stuff is legal. How did this all get started?
This rumor is largely the work of travel blogger Darmon Richter, who wrote an account in 2013, “On Smoking Weed in North Korea.” He claimed to have been taken along on a "staff outing" by his tour guides in the port city of Rason, where he found a "veritable mountain of marijuana" on sale in a market stall. He claimed that in North Korea, the stuff goes by the name of ip tambae, or "leaf tobacco," is legal, and widely smoked as a tobacco substitute.
The Guardian newspaper examined these claims and found that ip tambae, or ipdambae, is a "potpourri-like mixture of herbs and uncured tobacco leaves"—definitely not cannabis, which is indeed illegal in North Korea. The record was set straight by Matthew Reichel, director of the Pyongyang Project, which brings tourists to the ultra-closed country. "If you smoke that stuff it'll smell weird but it won't get you high," he told The Guardian. (Richter did a follow-up piece after The Guardian story, in which he conceded he'd got it wrong.)
Industrial hemp is grown, and feral hemp plants grow along the highways, as in Nebraska. But as every cornhusker knows, that stuff won't get you high either. Another thing North Korea has in common with the US Midwest, alas, is a plague of methamphetamine use. If personal users are being sent to the firing squad for meth rather than pot, that's only because there isn't any pot. And tourists (needless to say!) are closely controlled by handlers every minute of their time on the ground. Going to North Korea for the cannabis is a guaranteed bad trip.
A few years back, rubes got taken in by an Internet hoax, claiming that Sweden had legalized cannabis. It was posted all over Facebook by people who didn't bother to check out whether it was true or not. It was a total fabrication. But at least it was plausible. North Korea? Really? I'm tempted to ask what you guys have been smoking...
Graphic via The Weed Blog