When I first started in the medical marijuana industry in 2015, I kept reading stories that North Korea was a stoner's paradise — a place where one could buy pot in open markets and could find cannabis growing on the side of road. I even read that North Korean soldiers were smoking it! I thought it'd be fun to investigate…

So, I found this 2013 HuffPost article quoting Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty In North Korea, a California-based human rights group that protects and aids North Korean escapees. Park said, ”Cannabis grows wildly in North Korea and has even been sold abroad by government agencies as a way to earn foreign currency.”

While official law in North Korea regarding marijuana isn’t crystal clear, what is obvious is that cannabis, known as 'yoksam' on the peninsula, is not a priority for North Korean government or law enforcement. Shirley Lee, international editor of New Focus International, a site that reports North Korean news, was succinct — “With regards to marijuana in North Korea, it's as good as legal...” But after further research, I found the truth to be more complicated.

It seems government authorities in North Korea require farmers to grow hemp to produce clothes, cooking oil, food products and fuel. And one blog I read said the substance that is commonly consumed was probably not weed but rather feral hemp. That makes sense since North Korea has crazy-strict policies against illicit drug use (with a firing squad often carrying out any punitive action).

So, is it legal or not? It's hard to say, but this writer thinks North Korea is probably OK with the consumption of hemp, which lacks the psychoactive punch of cannabis, whereas marijuana is likely not legal. But, like most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

The craziest thing to me though, is that North Korea’s laws surrounding hemp are more lax than the hemp laws in our own country!

For more info about the legality of pot in North Korea, check out