Albanian lawmakers on Friday approved a measure legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. The country’s parliament “voted 69-23 to allow limited and controlled growth of cannabis plants, a move harshly contested by the opposition,” according to the Associated Press.
As the AP noted, the bill’s passage is notable given Albania’s history as “a European crossroads for marijuana trafficking.”
“Marijuana growing flourished in Albania in the past as drug traffickers exploited a lack of strong governance in the post-Communist country. After coming to power in 2013, the left-wing Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Edi Rama set destroying cannabis plants as a main target,” the Associated Press reported. Over the next two years it destroyed millions of cannabis plants with an estimated market value of 7 billion euros ($8.5 billion), more than two-thirds of the country’s annual gross domestic product at that time. In 2014, a police officer was fatally shot during a crackdown on a southern village using armored personnel carriers. Police came under automatic weapon and rocket fire from drug growers. Albania is still a main route for trafficking hard drugs. Police still crack down on isolated cases of cannabis growing, but much less often than a decade ago.”
Late last year, a senior official in the Albanian government was arrested under suspicion of smuggling drugs across the border.
The official, Erisa Fero, served as the IT director of the country’s top intelligence agency at the time of her arrest.
VICE reported in January on the arrest:
“Albanian police said Fero was using her official government ID as a security official to avoid police checkpoints and searches. During the arrest, Fero’s reported romantic partner, Leke Basha, 30, and a 17-year-old suspect, were also detained for drug trafficking offences. Two suspects on the North Macedonian side of the border, believed to have been receiving the drugs, escaped after a long manhunt, according to police.”
Albanian lawmakers began their efforts to legalize medical cannabis last summer when they drafted a proposal. As High Times reported at the time, the draft law provided very few details on how the new medical marijuana program would be regulated.
“The object of this law is to determine the rules for the cultivation, production and controlled circulation of the cannabis plant and by-products, for medical and industrial use, through licensed entities and under the supervision of the National Agency for Control and Monitoring of the Cultivation and Processing of the Cannabis Plant for medical and industrial purposes and the Production of its By-products,” the draft law stated.
In the wake of the measure’s passage this week, it appears that little has changed. According to the Associated Press, it “was not clear how the medical cannabis will be regulated,” but the “government believes that allowing limited production of cannabis can boost tax revenue.”
Albanian law enforcement has been working to thwart the illicit drug trade in the country for years, often working in collaboration with international police.
In 2017, the Associated Press reported on “a nationwide operation to try to prevent the planting of cannabis” in Albania.
“A statement said 3,100 officers have spread out around the country checking greenhouses, old army depots and tunnels or abandoned houses where cannabis seeds and small plants may have been hidden,” the outlet reported at the time. “Last year authorities destroyed about 2.5 million marijuana plants, four times more than the year before. Many metric tons of cannabis were seized at border crossing points or from boats bound for neighboring Italy or Greece.”