From NK News, here's an excerpt from Benjamin R. Young's piece discussing how marijuana is actually an encouraged alternative to tobacco in North Korea.
There is no taboo around pot smoking in the country – many North Koreans know the drug exists and have smoked it. In North Korea, the drug goes by the name of ip tambae or “leaf tobacco.”
Despite the fact the government does not crackdown on the use of the marijuana (or opium) and its prevalence amongst the common people, all you groups of dreadlocked California hippies and Burning Man festival survivors hoping to book yourselves onto a spliff-sampling tour after reading this are likely to be disappointed. If a Western tourist asks his or her guide where is the best place to get the “special plant,” as it is euphemistically referred to, the guide will most likely eschew the question. They’re likely well enough educated in Western legal attitudes towards marijuana to not feel the need to promote anything that might draw any more negative press.
The reason for smoking weed in North Korea differs from America. In North Korea, you don’t smoke weed purely to get high and laugh at your own hand, you do it to save money and as a break from the ubiquitous cheap local cigarettes that do more damage than good. In the black markets of North Korea, marijuana is sold at a cheap price and is easily obtainable in some areas. Therefore, the drug is especially popular among the lower classes of North Korean society. After a day of hard manual labor, it is common for North Korean workers to smoke marijuana as a way to relax and soothe tight or sore muscles.
One of the great bits of North Korean mythology we’ve all heard a million times is that citizens may not fold their newspapers lest they accidentally fold a picture of the leaders. But luckily not every page features those powerful, attention-seeking bossmen, so all the paper’s more easily recyclable parts (sports, weather, TV listings) end up being used to roll up tobacco and marijuana.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper is the favored rolling paper of many North Korean smokers, it is cut up into squares then rolled into small, cone-shaped spliffs. A source confirmed to NK NEWS that they had found a half lit joint on the ground in a rural area of the country with the Rodong Sinmunused as the rolling paper. The same source noted that, although it is easy to get hold of, the weed in North Korea isn’t actually that strong. Another reason for Californian hippies to stay at home, then.
Weed grows naturally on the Korean peninsula and although marijuana sprouts wildly around Chongjin for anyone to pick casually, near the outskirts areas do appear to be being cultivated more formally. The herb is commonly grown in the private gardens of many North Koreans: an American who travels every year to North Korea commented on Reddit that, “We came to a garden one day and took one look and said, ‘that is weed!’ We went over and sure enough they were growing marijuana. I had heard it is used for medicine but finding it was interesting.”
Reports of marijuana use date right back to the formation of the nation as it exists today. After the Korean War, U.S. soldiers commonly plucked the herb from the DMZ areas near the North Korean border and smoked it, with stories of tents being ‘hotboxed’ by tired fighters now a common recollection in the folklore of the difficult era.
Meanwhile back in the West, with the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado, some Americans are clamoring for legalization of the herb across the whole country. While this remains a controversial issue, the fact that marijuana appears to be commonly used in North Korea as a casual, cheap escape from an otherwise tight controlled society suggests that for all the other worries they have to put up with, they do enjoy at least one perk denied to people like me living here in “The Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.”