Report: North Korea Fueling Drones with Pot

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Despite a deep abiding fascination and efforts of varying degrees of sophistication and success to find out, few people really knows what goes on inside North Korea, aside from North Koreans. 

And since citizens living in the world’s last remaining true communist statewith an economy that’s nearly totally state-controlled, and a cult of personality not seen elsewhere in the Communist world since the “glory” days of Mao, Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh—are subject to repression and information control reminiscent of the dystopian film of your choice, North Koreans can’t be entirely sure what’s going on, either.

So when you read headlines like this report attributed to Radio Free Asia (which is unabashedly pro-U.S. in its slant) and picked up by UPI“North Korea cultivating marijuana to fuel drones”—well, what can you say? It’s crazy, but maybe it’s true. You don’t know!

We do know that North Korea grows hemp.

Cooking oil in the country is so scarce and valuable citizens will smuggle it from overseas. To create a domestic supply, departed leader Kim Il Sung encouraged his rural subjects to grow weed, known locally as yeoksam.

Stories of Chinese businesspeople and tourists visiting North Korea and coming home with some North Korean hemp, available for $72 a kilogram, have circulated for months. (While the North Korean weed likely has little to no THC, cannabis is strictly forbidden in China, so this Cold War-era ditch weed is the best they can do.)

But as any reader of Jack Herer knows, hemp oil can be used for fuel as well as food.

And according to a source in North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province, the hemp there is grown to be used as fuel for military purposes, Radio Free Asia reported.

“[B]asically the purpose of planting cannabis is to extract fuel for drones,” the source told RFA.

North Korea recently suffered a fuel crisis, with filling stations shutting down and gasoline prices doubling in March, according to Chinese state media reports. Around the same time, the government instructed farmers to replace soybean fields with cannabis, a source quoted by RFA said.

Each member of the North Korean Women’s Alliance was instructed to plant “33 square meters of marijuana,” with the argument that hemp oil has more fat than soy and is ergo a better source of cooking oil.

Used cooking oil can absolutely run a combustion engine. The first Ford Model T cars could run on hemp oil. But is there a small or sophisticated enough process to produce hemp-based fuel to run drones?

Maybe. Who knows—it’s North Korea. If you want to find out, go there yourself, and be prepared for a long stay.

In the meantime, one Western cultural export has apparently made its way past the demilitarized zone. It’s the drug war—and it’s thanks to China.

According to Radio Free Asia, wild hemp grows all over the North Korean countryside. Surplus crops were used as rabbit food by locals until they figured out why the Chinese tourists wanted some so badly—and now they fight each other for it.

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