Many consider Albania to be the largest cannabis hub in Europe. In the 2000s, it was estimated that 77 percent of the cannabis seized in Italy originated in Albania. However, the small Mediterranean country is engaged in an ongoing fight against organised crime and has made good progress in this regard in recent years.
But what is the legal situation of cannabis in Albania? Can you smoke some weed without getting in trouble with the local law enforcement agencies? Read on to find out.
Albania’s history with cannabis
According to a 2019 report of the Italian Antimafia, Albania is Europe’s main source of cannabis and one of the world’s top growers. The report also notes that Albania is a key transit point for hard drugs coming into Europe from Asia and the Middle East and that Albanian organised crime groups import cocaine from Colombia and distribute it throughout Europe.
But Albania’s problems with drug trafficking are not new. Drug trafficking became a problem in Albania in the 1990s when the country’s political instability made it a prime transit point for drug smugglers coming from Asia to Europe.
At the same time, local farmers started cultivating cannabis in the country’s southern region in order to gain some financial stability by satisfying the growing demand for weed in Albania, Greece and Italy. Their gamble worked, and, soon, an increasing number of poor rural Albanians were growing marijuana to make money, leading to the rise of the illegal cannabis industry.
Despite intensive efforts to stop and prevent drug production and trafficking, the Albanian authorities found themselves overwhelmed at times. The scale of the illegal cannabis industry was already too large, which meant that eradication was simply impossible.
By the mid-1990s, police and farmers would often engage in violent armed clashes. And when Albania’s financial situation worsened, the cost of marijuana came down from £700 to £70 per kilogram, which made the illegal cannabis industry in Albania even more attractive to domestic crime groups and mafia-style groups from neighbouring Italy.
In the 2000s and 2010s, the southern region of Albania was a cannabis grower’s dream. A small village called Lazarat, with only 5,000 inhabitants, produced 900 tonnes of cannabis per year, which was worth 4.5 billion Euros or about half of Albania’s gross domestic product. The Albanian police used about 800 police officers to bring the village under control in 2014.
After that incident, the Albanian law enforcement agencies worked hard to reduce the country’s illegal cannabis cultivation. Albania wants to join the European Union, so it has to improve its national anti-drug policy. In recent years, the country’s law enforcement officers worked alongside their Italian counterparts to stop the cannabis trade.
But, as this 2016 article shows, the Albanian cannabis trade has been lucrative for decades and may still be lucrative decades from now because cannabis work pays. And, even though it comes with a high risk, at the end of the day, some people will take that risk hoping that the payoff will make up for it, which it usually does.
Cannabis laws in Albania
Albania’s 1994 Law on Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances lists cannabis as a controlled substance with strict guidelines for its production and use. But the Criminal Code established in 1995 does not list cannabis use as a punishable offence and effectively decriminalises the possession of small amounts for personal use.
However, the Criminal Code’s amendments state that a small quantity of cannabis should be determined as a ‘single dose based on the individual’, which is a very subjective way of looking at things because an official amount is not specified.
As a result, individuals who are caught in possession of more than a single dose of cannabis, whatever that may be for the individuals in question, can be trialled for drug trafficking. However, courts take into account the individual’s circumstances — age, the quantity of cannabis in possession, criminal history, etc. — to determine an individual’s crime and suitable punishment. First-time offenders may be offered alternatives such as house arrest or probation.
Even though Albania’s cannabis laws may seem lax when it comes to personal possession, the situation is considerably harsher for those accused of drug trafficking. Selling or gifting cannabis (as in, giving cannabis without a monetary exchange) can lead to sentences of five to 10 years of imprisonment.
If the offender is part of an organised crime group, the sentences can increase to seven to 15 years of imprisonment. If the offender is the leader of an organised crime group, the sentences can increase again to 10 to 20 years of imprisonment.
Cannabis cultivation is also illegal. Individuals who grow cannabis can be sentenced to three to seven years of imprisonment. However, that doesn’t stop some people living in rural areas from growing their own weed. At this point, growing marijuana is sort of a local tradition in some villages, and cannabis plantations still rise up from time to time despite the authorities’ efforts.
Medical cannabis in Albania
Albania doesn’t have an official medical cannabis programme. However, since personal cannabis use is decriminalised, Albanian patients can theoretically self-medicate with herbal cannabis.
In May 2020, Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, said that the government plans to legalise medical cannabis. In a country that has been growing cannabis for decades, the idea of regulating an important source of jobs and a significant source of income could be a good step toward sustainable economic growth.
Hemp in Albania
Hemp cultivation is currently illegal in Albania. The country’s lawmakers wanted to allow hemp cultivation back in 2016, but the legal proposal did not pass.
The proposal didn’t pass because some parliament members said that passing the law would make Albania’s drug war more difficult.
CBD in Albania
Cannabidiol (CBD) is currently in a legal grey area in Albania. The substance is not banned, but it’s not allowed either.
Since cannabis cultivation is banned, CBD production is basically prohibited. But since cannabis possession for personal use is allowed, CBD is legal as long as the user is in possession of a ‘single dose’, whatever that may be.
The future of cannabis in Albania
The future of cannabis in Albania is uncertain. On the one hand, the country is trying its best to cull its illegal cannabis plantations due to its aspiration to join the European Union. But, on the other hand, legalising medical cannabis could make the same cannabis growers the authorities are now throwing in prison respectable members of the community with previous experience in the field.
As more and more countries around the world legalise cannabis and increase their GDP because of it, Albania should make an effort to follow in their steps. Not only could legal cannabis solve some of its economic problems, but it could also create stable, legal workplaces for Albanians living in rural areas.
Legalising medical cannabis would be an important step in the right direction. And cannabis legalisation may be a topic worth discussing before the 2021 Albanian parliamentary election.