Albania urged to implement medical cannabis reform after UN criticism
It might be difficult for most people to locate Albania on a map (it’s a coastal country directly across the Adriatic Sea from Italy), but what just happened there is certainly unique in the legalization debate. After being appointed on the 7e worst country in the world for illegal cannabis activities, the government has decided to legalize medical cannabis.
The law, titled “control of the cultivation and processing of the cannabis plant and the production of its by-products for medical and industrial purposes” is now online.
The status of the legislation
The bill does not contain many details, except for its intention to regulate the production of cannabis for medical use and for its export. Additional details that have now appeared in media coverage of the situation mention that the authorization will be granted for greenhouses and other secure covered areas up to 150 hectares and will be valid for a maximum period of 15 years. Companies must also have working capital of around $85,000, have at least 15 employees and pay the state a royalty of 1.5% of the company’s annual turnover.
However, by far the most interesting thing about these developments is that this bill was specifically prompted by the high rank “achieved” by Albania in the recent UN report on drugs and crime. The fact that the country is actually called the “Balkan route” for heroin smuggling from Pakistan to Western countries, including across the Adriatic to Italy, does not help matters.
The draft law will now be available for public comment, after which it will be forwarded to Parliament.
Opposition groups are furious, calling the development irresponsible and saying it will only facilitate illegal cultivation even further. Enkelejd Alibeaj, MP and leader of one of the two political groups now opposed to this reform, also accused the Prime Minister of being lenient on the issue, even after his former interior minister is in prison due to his involvement in “criminal cannabis trafficking groups”.
Many criminal gangs have also moved their production indoors to evade detection.
About a third of 8,328 Albanians prosecuted for cannabis trafficking between 2013 and 2019 were actually sentenced.
The government, on the other hand, believes that this law will allow them to control the legal industry and even generate much-needed foreign export revenue.
Eliminate the black market through medical reform
While admirable and certainly overdue, this law may well fall short of its objectives. Then again, so far, what legalization effort has gone smoothly? That said, nearby North Macedonia is in a similar situation. The reform of medical cannabis, however, has so far not been the windfall hoped for, largely due to the complexity of exporting this narcotic from a non-European country to the EU and from the Balkans. .
However, this is clearly a step in an unavoidable position.
The history of cannabis in Albania
Albania is no stranger to large-scale cannabis cultivation. Indeed, it became a big part of the economy after the fall of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s when the country’s economic situation collapsed. The illicit industry, at first localized, was then penetrated by a series of increasingly powerful and violent gangs. This period peaked around 2016, the same year that Albania was named as one of the largest illicit producers in the world. Although there was a concerted international effort to disrupt this over the next year, it achieved little except pushing traffickers into more remote areas and adopting additional evasion techniques.
The Albanian government also cooperated with international police forces in an attempt to stop the problem through military means. Indeed, with the help of Italian reconnaissance flights between 2013 and 2019, authorities identified 613 hectares (1,514 acres) of land planted with cannabis, much of it centered in the southern village of Lazarat, also nicknamed the cannabis capital of Europe. In a country of only 2.9 million hectares, this is a considerable territory.
In such an environment, it will be interesting to see the impact of legalizing at least the medical culture, especially as the whole issue of cannabis reform progresses internationally.
The recent UN report on drugs and international crime has also been controversial for its claims about the increase in cannabis use and the reasons for it. It appears to have now had a visceral impact on at least one country’s reform agenda the week after Germany concluded its own recreational cannabis reform hearings.