Under a draft law published on June 30, the Albanian government plans to issue licenses to produce 150 hectares (about 370 acres) of cannabis beginning in 2023. Companies interested in obtaining a license must have capital in excess of 100 million leks (about $850,000) to be considered for a license. Cannabis production licensees will be subject to oversight by a state agency created to regulate the new hemp and cannabis industry.
Although cannabis production has been carried out in many European Union nations for decades, efforts to reform Albania’s cannabis policy are more controversial. The country has become a center of illicit production since the fall of communism three decades ago and at least 40 percent of the country’s prison population are serving sentences for drug convictions.
Politicians Who Oppose Cannabis Legalization
Until 2014, the southern Albanian village of Lazarat was considered the European capital of illegal cannabis cultivation, with police reportedly afraid to enter the area and a military-style operation needed to suppress the illicit activity. Even with the interdiction efforts, Albania remains a hotbed of cannabis cultivation, leading some opposition politicians to accuse the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of being complicit with drug smuggling gangs.
Saimir Tahiri, the former Albanian interior minister, was sentenced in February to more than three years in prison for abuse of power for collaborating with drug traffickers in a case investigated by Italian police. Two of his bodyguards were accused of drug trafficking, although Tahiri was found not guilty of similar charges. Opposition MP Enkelejd Alibeaj said that the plan to legalize cannabis production is “madness” considering the government’s history.
“Edi Rama is the only Prime Minister in the EU whose former Interior Minister is in prison exactly due to connections with drug traffickers,” Alibeaj wrote on Facebook, according to
“Everybody knows that in a country where criminality and corruption is very high, keeping such activity under control is next to impossible,” he added.
Alibeaj said that the bill would only benefit those who enjoy a friendly relationship with the prime minister.
“The criteria and procedures defined in the draft law clarify that the licenses for this activity will only benefit Rama’s friends and allies,”
Albania: World’s Seventh-Largest Producer of Illicit Cannabis
Albania’s plan to license cannabis production was revealed only days after the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) ranked the country as the world’s seventh-largest producer of illicit cannabis. Albania was ranked as the top producer in the southeastern region of Europe, outpaced worldwide out of a total of 154 countries by only Morocco, Afghanistan, Spain, Netherlands, Pakistan and Lebanon.
Albania is also a center of European cocaine trafficking and is part of the Balkan route for trafficking heroin from its source in Pakistan through Syria, Turkey and Greece before being shipped to Western Europe from Albania. Last month, a report from the European Center for Drug Monitoring found that since 2017, criminal groups in Albania have branched out from cannabis trafficking, expanding into importing and distributing cocaine from Latin America.
“For years, international cocaine importers worked separately from wholesalers and gangs distributing drugs on the streets,”