Albania takes step closer to legalising medical cannabis cultivation

Officials in Albania have approved a draft bill which would regulate the production and export of medicinal and industrial cannabis.

On Friday 16 June, the Council of Ministers voted to approve a draft bill to legalise the production of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

The country’s Health Minister, Ogerta Manastirliu told the media in a statement that the purpose of the law is to regulate and ‘guarantee the process of control and supervision of cultivation, production, processing and export of the cannabis, its by-products and final products’.

Under the proposed regulations, there would be no THC cap on medicinal cannabis and cultivation will be limited to an area of 5-10 hectares. 

Cannabis grown for industrial purposes will be limited to up to 0.8% THC, and by-products can be obtained from the entire plant (including stems, flowers and seeds). Cultivation will be limited to no less than one hectare.

A national agency is now being established to oversee the regulatory process.

Opposition to the legislation

The legalisation of medical cannabis has been the subject of debate in Albania for some time. 

Early in 2022 a national consultation of citizen’s views on cannabis was undertaken at the request of the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, which found that 61% were in favour of legalising cannabis for medical and industrial reasons.

However, the poll has reportedly been criticised by some as not being ‘independent’, with strong opposition to the idea of any form of legalisation, given the country’s history of illegal cultivation and trafficking. 

The Albanian government first announced its intention to legalise medical cannabis last year, with a draft law published in July 2022. Under this, cultivation licences would last for 15 years with a right of renewal and would be available to apply for from 2023, subject to the bill’s approval in parliament.

“The Council of Ministers has approved the draft law on cannabis, for medical and industrial purposes,” Manastirliu said on Friday, as reported by Albanian Daily News.

“From the national consultation, where 61% of the citizens voted in favour, some ministries have started work. This draft law defines the regulatory framework for how the process will be initiated. The goal is to regulate and streamline the process of control and supervision of production and processing. 

“The main aspects are related to regulatory aspects that belong from the moment of cultivation and safe and controlled export. There is a special element, the regulatory aspect also defines the institutions that will deal with the control of the processing and production of products for medical purposes.”

She added: “The National Agency for the Control of Cannabis will be established. All the conditions for the aspects of granting licences and permits are provided with defined and consulted and well organised criteria. We have paid due attention to all the best practices in the world.”

The bill will now proceed to parliament.

Albania’s history of illicit cannabis cultivation 

Albania has a reputation as one of the biggest producers and exporters of illegal cannabis in the world. As one of The Balkan countries, situated in South-Eastern Europe, it has also historically been an important transit location along the ‘Balkan route’ for illicit drugs travelling into Europe from further afield.

In particular, following the fall of  the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this became a large part of the country’s economy, which was subsequently infiltrated by violent gangs.

In 2016, the country saw unprecedented levels of cannabis cultivation and the Albanian government has collaborated with international law enforcement agencies in its efforts to combat the issue using military strategies.

Last year, High Times reported that from 2013-2019, with the assistance of Italian surveillance flights, authorities located 613 hectares of land being used for the cultivation of cannabis (Albania’s total land area amounts to around 2.9 million hectares). A significant amount of this was in the southern village of Lazarat, which has been dubbed the ‘cannabis capital’ of Europe. 

Despite the efforts to crackdown, in 2022 it was named by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report as the world’s seventh largest illegal cultivator and distributor of cannabis.