Police in Albania have announced a nationwide crackdown on marijuana cultivation, which has increased to such a degree in the country that it has become known as the “outdoor cannabis capital” of Europe.
In a statement, Albania’s national law enforcement agency said it has deployed more than 3,000 officers around the country to check abandoned buildings, greenhouses and old army depots for evidence of cannabis seeds or plants.
The move follows a number of major marijuana seizures both inside Albania and on its border with Greece.
Earlier this month, Greek police seized over 1.3 tons of cannabis from a truck attempting to cross the Albanian border. When stopped by customs officials, the driver of the vehicle fled from his cab and ran back across the Albanian border before he could be detained.
Separately, police inside Albania arrested a man after finding 1.38 tons of dried cannabis concealed in secret tunnels under his house.
According to a report from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), Albanian law enforcement agencies have disrupted more than a dozen attempts by traffickers to smuggle large shipments of cannabis into Greece or Italy in the first two months of this year alone.
An official told BIRN that cracking down on cannabis smuggling is a major focus for the country’s police force at this time of year, and that officers are strengthening links with law enforcement agencies in neighbouring nations as part of their efforts to stem the flow of cannabis leaving Albania.
Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti yesterday met with government officials in Albania to discuss how the two countries can work together to tackle cannabis smuggling.
Roberti said increasing cannabis production in the wider Balkans region is helping to finance Islamist terror groups such as Daesh, and stressed the importance of Albania and Italy formulating a common strategy to target the organised crime groups that blight both countries.
“There is common interest between Italy and Albania in combating organised crime and corruption, which have become more and more interrelated,” Roberti told reporters during a press conference.
“Unfortunately, institutionalised corruption is allowing organised criminal groups to infiltrate through institutions, public administration and the legal economy.”
He speculated that the increased flows of cannabis into Italy from Albania might be linked to his own country’s tough anti-cultivation legislation, which is designed to stop people growing their own marijuana.
The Albanian government claims it last year destroyed some 2.5 million marijuana plants, a four-fold increase on the previous year. The drugs destroyed were estimated to have a street value of more than €3 billion.
Scores of impoverished Albanian farmers have turned to cannabis cultivation, which is far more profitable for them than growing legal crops.