Situated to the northwest of Greece, Albania is quietly but effectively dominating the European cannabis industry.
Albania is a country which up until the 1990’s was ruled by a series of dictatorships that left it rather separated from the rest of it’s neighboring European countries. As an isolated country it didn’t even attempt to be a part of the European Union until recently, and remains on a waitlist for entry. One can only wonder if the recent Brexit ordeal will open a place for new EU blood like Albania, and how a choice like that could effect cannabis regulation.
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Albania’s Current Stance on Cannabis
For now, of course, Albania is not governed by EU laws. As of 1994, per the Albania Law of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances, cannabis is considered a controlled substance with guidelines set out for its use and production. However, a year later, when the Criminal Code of the Republic of Albania was created, it failed to list cannabis use as an actual offense, and decriminalized personal use of it.
While some countries with similar laws set a usage amount that a person can have without being subject to further laws, Albania instead set the limit at a single dose based on the person in question – a rather subjective way of looking at it. On the other hand, while a small amount of personal use seems to be cool with them, the idea of selling it, is not, and having more than a single dose does enable an offender to be prosecuted for trafficking.
Much like in countries like Portugal, however, if the offender has more than a single dose, but is using it themselves, they are likely to be recommended for treatment rather than punished legally. What makes this even weirder, though, is that Albania actually doesn’t have a medicinal cannabis program at the moment, which means there is no technically legal way to get cannabis in Albania.
And yet, if a person is found with a small amount they are essentially given that ability to self-medicate with a product that they can’t legally buy. What this means is that the Albanian government is basically saying you can’t grow it, sell it, or be prescribed it, but if you’re caught self-medicating with it, it’s probably going to be okay.
As Albania is trying very hard to gain membership into the EU, how it treats cannabis has become very important. And it’s quite possible that these disconnected Albanian laws are a result of trying to assuage EU pressure to have better anti-drug policies, while still bowing to internal pressure from citizens (and cartels).
What about CBD and hemp?
As just stated, growing cannabis is also illegal in Albania, with a 3-7 years prison sentence possible for offenders found with plants on their premises. This phenomenon isn’t uncommon at all, where the sale and production are illegal, but actually having it, isn’t always.
For its part, CBD – cannabidiol – one of the non-psychoactive cannabinoids of cannabis which has recently been in the spotlight for it’s multiple and wide-spread health benefits, is actually not differentiated by law from cannabis in Albania. This means that even with little to no THC in it, CBD is technically still bound by the exact same laws as cannabis.
Having said that, it’s no great surprise that hemp in general is also still illegal in Albania, with more efforts made recently to change this legality, mainly because of the versatility and usefulness of industrial hemp (to pretty much any economy).
Cracking down on Cannabis in Albania
Part of what makes Albania interesting when it comes to cannabis, is just how much cannabis it actually produces, where the product ends up, and how little seems to be known about it in the mainstream world. In a National Drug Report from 2017, Albania is specifically earmarked as a cannabis producing country with most of its products being exported to nearby countries, particularly those in the EU and Western Balkans.
In the past few years (likely to gain EU approval), Albania has cracked down a lot on production with huge seizures of plantations and destruction of plants. In 2015 it was reported that as many as 1,198 growing plantations were seized and around 797,422 plants destroyed.
All of this would make it sound like Albania is lessening its cannabis cultivation and use, but this might not be the case at all. Just like it was able to operate so long in the shadows previously, it seems Albania might still be a king in the cannabis industry, a sort of dark horse moving around in the shadows.
The Columbia of Europe
Touted as the ‘Columbia of Europe’ by the Independent, it was pointed out that while the government might have made a big show of destroying plants and seizing properties, the drug cartels of Albania didn’t exactly give up, but rather resorted to different measures like using fishing boats, or high-speed zodiac inflatable boats, and creating large networks to move products (that are also used to move cocaine and heroin around the world).
Albania is considered not only a huge provider of cannabis (largest to the EU according to the Independent), but also an important transfer point for cannabis, heroin and cocaine. Based on the value of cannabis seizures, officials estimate that cannabis generates in the neighborhood of 4 billion euro a year, which is about half the country’s GDP.
Cannabis carrying boats are generally armed according to sources who would not give names, and even Albanian officials admitted that only about 10% of boats carrying drugs get intercepted, with some saying the number is actually closer to 5%. Unlike other countries that make themselves more out there and known – even in their illegal activity – Albanian cannabis producers and smugglers have kept a very low profile which might be what is enabling them to gain the traction they have, despite all the government efforts to shut them down.
This almost invisible activity actually has an overall positive effect on the general population of Albania who are not involved in drug wars, and see very little of what goes on behind the scenes. This is not the case everywhere, and in many places normal citizens can often get caught up in messy cartel warring.
While exact numbers might not be known for just how big the Albanian cannabis industry is, there is certainly contention as to what that number is, and how much it might have recently changed. Last month an Italian public broadcast called Rai 3 claimed that Albanian cannabis production had increased by 1200%, and this despite government efforts to banish it entirely.
The Italian source claimed its numbers came from a leaked Italian police figure, but there is no certain confirmation on that. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was angered by the report, calling it a ‘journalistic shame’. Of course, Rama also said in 2017 that the industry was dying out due to government measures, and as that seems to be an incorrect assessment of the situation, it’s hard to know how much value this 1200% number actually has.
One thing for sure though, Italy gets a lot of cannabis from Albania, with the Tirana Times claiming in 2017 that Albania is Italy’s main cannabis supplier. While that might be from a few years ago, it doesn’t look like Albania is slowing down, and has recently been named the biggest cannabis producer of south-east Asia.
While Albania might be harboring a seedy underbelly when it comes to drug trafficking, they hold an interesting place right now in their seemingly contradictive laws on cannabis, ability to cultivate and move it on the down-low, and their desire to become part of the European Union which has undoubtedly had an effect on their recent law-making and efforts on cannabis eradication.
While the tone of the country, and these grand eradication gestures, seem to be at odds, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a country in legal flux spun out in order to find some kind of grounding to make everyone happy, and to curb unwanted illegal activity. Illegal activity that could, perhaps, lay some groundwork for a future legalization effort.
While no one is saying anything like it now, I can only imagine that the Albanian government would like a cut of the cannabis profits, and as has been figured out elsewhere, legalization is one of the best ways for that to happen. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. But whatever happens, with a country like Albania, it’ll definitely be interesting!
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