The platform of expansion and systematization of drug production and smuggling has the authorities’ support.
In the early 1970s when the economy was stagnant, the North Korean authorities purchased poppy from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Lebanon, raised them on a large scale, and then smuggled opium out to other third world countries.
Then, after the Eastern Bloc collapsed and North Korea was faced with its economic crisis in the late 1980s, the scale of drug smuggling and production was increased. At that time, the authorities encouraged the people to raise “white bellflowers,” a code word for poppies. This campaign was to use the people to produce opium in order to earn more foreign currency.
The authorities started expanding drug production and smuggling in the mid-1990s, when the North faced its greatest famine, the March of Tribulation. During this time, economic production dropped to less than half of what it had been, so the authorities tried to get through this time by illegally exporting drugs and weapons.
The regime used diplomats and entrepreneurs to smuggle out the drugs and weapons, several of whom were arrested in other countries in the 2000s.
In December of 2004, two North Korean diplomats were caught by Turkish authorities because they possessed seven million dollars’ worth of drugs. Another two diplomats who brought 150,000 dollars’ worth of prohibited items were arrested in Egypt.
Since 1990, there have been reportedly some 50 cases that North Korean diplomats were arrested and detained for drug related issues in around 20 countries.
North Korea’s drug dealings are related to Chinese Triad, Japanese Yakuza, Russian Mafia, and South Korean gangsters.
Drug smuggling causes serious problems within North Korea, too. Drug production and use has spread among North Korean general people, so it has caused conflict between people as well as damage to their health.
The authorities have seen the serious side-effects of drug production, which they started as a means to revive their economy. However, as they now try to crack down on drug production, they realize that stopping production is impossible.