Largest illegal cannabis producer in Europe creates medical cannabis branch
Albania, one of the largest producers of illegal cannabis in the world, has approved for the first time the creation of a medical cannabis industry and its legal commercial cultivation. At a vote held last week (July 21), the Albanian Parliament approved by a majority of 69 votes to 23 a bill allowing the cultivation of medical cannabis in the country.
The draft law does not include, at this stage, the details concerning the structure and regulations of the medical sector, these will be stipulated later by the national agency which will be dedicated to it and created soon. Albania was for many years one of the world's largest producers of illegal cannabis and also the main supplier of prohibited cannabis to European countries.
It is a Muslim-majority country bordering Greece and Macedonia, which was previously under Soviet control as part of the Soviet Union and was therefore also badly damaged by the collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s, and suffered from a severe economic crisis.
The combination of this economic crisis with the government vacuum in the country and the geographical proximity to Europe, has allowed this small country, with approximately 2,5 million inhabitants, to become a world powerhouse in the cultivation of cannabis in the 90s and beyond, and as mentioned, one of the largest cannabis suppliers to European countries.
Cannabis cultivation in Albania continued to grow in the 2000s and reached, according to police estimates, an annual volume of no less than 900 tons of cannabis per year with an estimated value of around 4,5 billion euros, which flowed into the pockets of brutal international crime from organizations such as the Albanian mafia which controlled a part importance of cannabis cultivation in the country. According to UN data, in 2006 approximately 77% of all cannabis on the black market in Italy was smuggled to it from Albania.
In 2012, 21,2 tons of cannabis were seized in Albania, a particularly high figure considering that it is such a small country, but a drop in the ocean compared to the police estimate of 900 tons per year. The absolute majority of cannabis produced in Albania therefore manages to cross the border into Europe without being caught, according to the authorities.
More Cannabis Plants Than People: Albania's Cannabis Battle
In 2013, a new government was elected in Albania which decided to make the destruction of cannabis crops in the country its top priority, mainly due to repeated requests from European countries to stop the smuggling of cannabis between them.
For the first time, the new government activated the police and the army with full force against illegal cannabis growers, who in turn were not afraid to carry out fierce gunfights with military forces to protect their fields.
In total, between the years 2013-2015, the Albanian government destroyed illegal cannabis for an estimated value of around 7 billion euros, which at the time constituted more than 75% of the country's GDP.
As a result of the new government's war on cannabis, in 2014, 101 tons of cannabis flowers and 55000 plants were seized in Albania, and in 2016 seizures reached a record high with 30 tons of flowers and no less of 2,5 million cannabis. plants – roughly the same number as the number of people in the country, despite being the only plants the police managed to seize. It can be concluded that there were, in fact, more cannabis plants than people in Albania at that time.
Since 2016, arrest numbers have started to decline, but still remain very high compared to the small country with a population size less than half that of Israel. In 2017, about 85 tons of cannabis were seized in Albania, and in 2019, about 80 tons were seized. In 2022, despite years of intense government war on cannabis cultivation, Albania was still ranked by the United Nations 7th on the list of countries that cultivate the most illegal cannabis
In January 2023, there was an embarrassing diplomatic incident for Albania when a senior government official was arrested at the border post between Albania and North Macedonia in possession of 58 kg of cannabis which he was attempting to smuggle into Macedonia while using his government ID card to avoid inspection. According to the authorities, he would have acted in the service of Albanian criminal organizations, which led the European Union to worry about what appears to be the infiltration of these organizations into key positions in the Albanian government.
The bill to regulate the industry of medical cannabis which was approved last week, as mentioned, does not yet contain specific details, but only gives approval in principle for the establishment of a medical cannabis industry in the country, whose regulations and laws will be formulated later. It now remains to be seen whether Albania will be able to make the transition and replicate its dizzying criminal success in Europe's illegal cannabis market also in the new legal market.