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Albania Moves Closer To Legal Cannabis Cultivation

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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that the country’s legislators are close to concluding a draft law allowing the cultivation of medical cannabis. He made the announcement during a live conference of “Europe Day” on May 9.

Albania has long been criticized for being a major transit point for drugs of all kinds entering Europe from Asia and Latin America as well as a major source of black market cannabis grown in the country itself.

The Albanian proposal appears to be modeled on its neighbour, North Macedonia’s model, with a long stretch of coast on the Mediterranean. The country, like North Macedonia, also borders Greece to the south.

However, like North Macedonia, successful companies will be required to have a million euro bank guarantee and at least 15 employees. This means that only the largest cultivators, and presumably those with foreign contacts, will be able to qualify for licenses. Like North Macedonia, Albania is not yet a part of the EU. Indeed efforts to control illegal trafficking are part of the country’s plan to become an EU state.

Currently, cannabis possession in the country is still illegal. There is no medical marijuana program, although presumably, the passage of the new law will begin to create a structured pathway for patients to access the drug and doctors to prescribe it.

Illicit cannabis trafficking first came to the attention of authorities in the 1990s after the fall of the communist state, when cannabis cultivation that had mainly been concentrated in the south of the country became more widespread – and for the simple reason of trying to find some kind of economic stabilization in the turbulent years that followed, including a bloody civil war.

In 2012, Albanian police seized almost twice as much illicitly grown cannabis as they had the year before. In 2013, Albania made global headlines when police tried to shut down production in Lazarat, a region considered the centre of illicit production in the mountainous southern region of the country. About 90% of the villages in the region were thought to be involved in the illegal trade of cannabis in some way. Indeed villagers mounted an armed resistance that involved the populace of all ages.

Between 2014 and 2018, police in Albania cracked down dramatically on illegal cultivation of the plant. In 2016, estimates placed the illegal market at 3.5 billion euros – or about half of the entire Albanian GDP for the year. By the mid-2000’s, 77% of the cannabis in Italy actually originated in Albania, carried across the Ionian Sea in speedboats.

For an up-to-date snapshot of the European cannabis market, be sure to book your tickets for the return of the International Cannabis Business Conference to Europe in Fall 2020