The nation of Albania has a long, deadly relationship with marijuana.
As in most countries, weed is illegal there. As in most countries, that fact has contributed to the growth of criminal organizations. But in Albania, the problem is worse. There is one marijuana-growing region so criminal it was long impossible for police and military to enter, a region whose residents taunted the government and fueled much of Europe’s trade in illegal cannabis.
But now the country’s leaders, if somewhat implausibly, say they’ve solved the problem. No more marijuana, they say, is left in the country. Well, almost none.
Color us skeptical, but Albanian police announced in September that they have destroyed nearly 700,000 pot plants, roughly 99.2 percent of the country’s alleged total, since the start of the year. Reporters said they couldn’t verify these numbers independently.
Could marijuana really be eradicated?
They probably never will. It’s ludicrous on the surface to believe that a country, any country, could simply eradicate a popular drug. No nation has been known to pull it off yet. And it’s even less likely in Albania, with its long history of organized crime and political instability.
Still, officials insist they’ve wiped more than $8 billion in weed from the planet. Their plant count was up by 140,000 from 2014, they said, and represented most of the rest of Albania’s crop. Police also destroyed more than 100 tons of processed cannabis last year, they said.
There is no question Albania has launched a massive effort to crack down on the illegal weed trade. The country supplies much of the continent’s marijuana, and that could pose an obstacle to its hopes to join the European Union. The United States has sent help, including a federal prosecutor and an FBI agent. But that hasn’t guaranteed success.
Regions of Albania reliant on black market
Albania is taking a big risk by cracking down on pot. The cannabis plant is a cash staple in some parts of the country, and those places could suffer ruin if the black market industry collapses. But Albanian politicians say they’re willing to take the risk – all for membership in a Continental government that already appears headed toward disintegration.
Of course, it’s not fair that Albania bears so much of the weight of prohibition. Earlier this summer, a pot farmer shot and killed a police officer during a raid near the capital city of Tirana.
But trying to burn a plant species from existence isn’t the answer. Were Europe to legalize marijuana, Albania could likely build a vibrant legal industry and reap major benefits.
But that isn’t likely anytime soon. For now, Albanian officials are taking a hard-line law-and-order approach, apparently prodded by the DEA.
“The fight against drugs knows no end,” Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said Wednesday. “It has a high cost and it is extremely difficult, but it continues.”