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Albania Prompted to Implement Medical Cannabis Reform After U.N. Criticism

While it might be difficult to find Albanian on a map because of its location across the Adriatic Sea, Italy to the north, the recent legalization discussions are unique. The 7th Deputy Prime Minister of Albania was named.ThThe government decided that medical marijuana should be legalized, making it the worst nation in the world.

The law, entitled “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 Statute of the Legislation

Except for the fact that it intends to regulate cannabis production, both for medicinal use and export purposes, there is not much detail in the draft law. The press has now reported additional details about the situation, including that licenses will be granted to greenhouses or other secure areas covering 150 hectares. These licences will last for 15 years. A minimum of 15 employees is required, and companies must have a working capital requirement of $85,000.

However, by far the most interesting thing about such developments is that this bill was specifically prompted by the high ranking “achieved” by Albania on the U.N.’s recent report on drugs and crime. The fact that the country was actually named for the “Balkan route” for trafficking heroin from Pakistan to western countries, including across the Adriatic to Italy does not help matters.

The bill will now go live for public comment. After that, it will be forwarded on to the Parliament.

Opposition groups furious at the developments, calling it irresponsible. They claim that they will facilitate more illegal cultivation. Enkelejd Alibeaj, a member of Parliament and leader of one of the two political groups now opposed to this reform also accused the prime minister of going soft on the issue, even after his former interior minister is in prison due to involvement with “criminal groups of cannabis trafficking.”

To avoid detection, many criminal gangs also move their production indoors.

Around one-third of the 8,328 Albanians charged with cannabis trafficking were actually convicted.

The government, in contrast, believes that this law will enable them to control the legal industry—and even bring in much needed foreign export income.

Medical Reform is the Key to Eliminating Black Market

This law, while admirable and long overdue may not succeed in its intended goal. What legalization efforts have been successful anywhere else so far? However, North Macedonia is right next to it and in the same situation. Medical cannabis reform, however, has not so far been the windfall that was hoped for, in large part because of the complexity of exporting this narcotic from a non-European country to the E.U.—and from the Balkans.

But it’s a first step to an inevitable situation.

Albanian Cannabis History

The cultivation of large amounts of cannabis isn’t a foreign concept in Albania. Indeed, it became a large part of the economy after the fall of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s as the country’s economic situation collapsed. Although initially small-scale, the illicit industry was eventually flooded by powerful, violent gangs. This period peaked in about 2016—the same year that Albania was named as one of the largest illicit producers in the world. It was not possible to end this despite a coordinated international effort.

To combat the issue via military force, Albania’s government has collaborated with international police forces. Indeed, with the aid of Italian reconnaissance flights between 2013 and 2019, authorities identified 613 hectares (1,514 acres) of land planted with cannabis, much of it centred in the southern village of Lazarat, also dubbed “Europe’s cannabis capitol.” In a country which is only 2.9 million hectares, this is a significant amount of territory.

In such an environment, it will be interesting to see the impact of legalization of at least medical cultivation—particularly as the entire issue of cannabis reform moves forward internationally.

Unpopular were also the U.N.’s recent report on international drug and crime. Its assertions regarding increased marijuana use and its causes are still controversial. It appears it has now had a visceral impact on at least one country’s reform schedule the week after Germany concluded its own hearings on recreational cannabis reform.