Albania is one of the good scenic countries of the Balkans where they live in peace and have a relatively cleaner history. Not much is heard of Albanian colonizers or invaders, yet for quite a while now, the “stain” on their name is either Marijuana or Cannabis.
Actually, it was all good until not so long ago. Drug trafficking only became a concrete problem in Albania in the 90s, right when cannabis cultivation, in general, got widespread. They started with Cannabis as well as marijuana and followed up with hashish imports through Turkey.
Albanian cannabis was overly sufficient for the local demands that there even started to be a surplus which satisfied even the international ones.
Through these drug-related activities, mafia actions also became relatively widespread in Albania. Today they have the core of the Frankfurt mafia aside from the Albanian mafia. There also happens to be some Italian connections with the mafia in Albania, in fact, in mid-2000s almost 80% of the cannabis in Italy originated from Albania.
Let’s talk statistics: In 2012, Albania seized 21.2 metric tons of cannabis, almost twice the amount in 2011. The main production was operated in a town named Lazarat, also known as the “cannabis capital”, where the Albanian State Police (APS) had the most trouble. 90% of the villages of Lazarat had some sort of arsenal which people used to fight against the police. Even the elderly were involved. It was at the point where 8 years ago, the illegal cannabis/marijuana production from these villages made up almost half of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Albania. Lazarat produced 900 tons of cannabis annually, which explains how it made up half of the GDP.
Good economic contribution, perhaps just not in the right direction. It is not all on Albania though; this high level of involvement with drugs and illegal production began right after the fall of the communist state, where in the short adapting time criminal gangs from Greece came to Albania-Greece borders in order to kick-start the drug production chains. Of course, nearby villagers saw this as an opportunity of financial illumination during a turbulent economic time and got involved.
Now, what has changed ever since then? The Albanian government started taking extra caution regarding Lazarat, especially in the years 2014 and 2015, which led to the villagers becoming “activists” to preserve their ability to produce and sell cannabis. Police forces got more violent, but they never succeeded in single-handedly ending it all at once. Villagers of all ages were in this together and they did their best to cover up the whole time. Of course, since the ”business” was running for a long time that it came to the point where they did not have enough places to store the “goods” so they had to dig up holes in their soil or hide the products in tires or such materials around them. Whenever a police raid would take place, they would understand if there was cannabis or not through those holes. When asked, interrogated villagers would claim they grew potatoes and brush off the questions.
Of course, it becomes complicated if you decide to forbid illegal activity as such and crack down on particular locations, especially when other mafias are engaged. That is part of the reason why even today they are dealing with the cannabis issue. Lazarat even demanded a separate title/status for the region which the government denied.
Looking at what is going on today, Albania is the 7th cannabis cultivator in the world, based on the “World Drugs Report 2022” concluded by the UN. The first 6 were Morocco, Afghanistan, Spain, Netherlands, Pakistan, and Lebanon.
The country is also famous for its critical part in the Balkan route for heroin trafficking, which starts in Pakistan and passes through Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Albania, and then goes on to Western Europe. Today there are even Albanian flagged villages and territories in Macedonia where the majority of the properties are their, thanks to the drug money.
After all, despite the fact that the Albanian government has been giving a recognizable fight with some victories against these organized crime groups with illegal productions, they still could not shut it down. They even started debating whether or not cannabis for medical use should be made legal. On the 7th of April 2022, after a vote of the national counseling with 61% of people being in favor of legalization, prime minister Edi Rama announced he will pave the way for the legalization of medical cannabis.
Concluding this and following the decision, the draft of the said law suggests a national agency be established with the sole aim of monitoring the cultivation and processing of cannabis to ensure it is for medical and industrial purposes. Through this bill, the Council of Ministers would be giving a license for cannabis production for 15 years which is not renewable. Adding onto it, it would be legal for “exports only” so local companies would not benefit from this.
Dario Sabaghi “Albania May Legalize Export-Only Medical Cannabis And Industrial Hemp”
Alice Taylor, “Albania seventh globally for cannabis cultivation and distribution”
“Cannabis in Albania”