Police in Albania have destroyed 2.4 million marijuana plants worth an estimated €3 billion since June, in a crackdown on the country’s thriving drug production and trafficking trade.
Speaking to reporters last Friday, Police Chief Haki Cako said 540 acres of the plants had been pulled out of the ground in the last three months, four times more than authorities confiscated in the whole of last year.
He said 248 people had been arrested as a result of the operation, which culminated in the destruction of drugs destined for countries including Kosovo, Montenegro and Greece. According to an expert quoted by local media, the value of the plants destroyed was equal to roughly a third of Albania’s gross domestic product.
The Albanian government made clamping down on the illegal production of cannabis a priority three years ago, but has ramped up its efforts in recent months. Authorities were forced to act after the country became a major supplier of the drug for the whole of Europe. Prior to the crackdown, it was thought the illegal cannabis trade was worth billions of dollars a year to Albania, fuelling a vibrant black market economy that also turned the country into a major hub for cocaine distribution throughout Europe.
One of the campaign’s major seizures came at the end of last month, when Albanian authorities confiscated three metric tonnes of cannabis and destroyed as many as 13,000 cannabis plants in a northern district of the country, where many poor farmers have turned to cannabis cultivation as a way to make ends meet.
Cannabis is an attractive crop in Albania due its value. It brings in roughly €600 for every 2kg of marijuana produced; around the price of a whole tonne of wheat. The country also has the prefect climate for cannabis farming, and is well placed to take advantage of the lucrative European market for the drug, which the country’s organised crime gangs skilfully exploit.
At the end of last month, three Albanian gangsters were sentenced to 21 years in jail in the UK for their part in in a multi-million euro cocaine and cannabis trafficking conspiracy. After entering Britain illegally in the back of a lorry, Ariolt Kuka, Sander Lleshi and Marjan Deda quickly set about exploiting their criminal connections to establish a vast drug dealing empire. Kuka tried to convince police he was attempting to support his family back home when he was caught with a consignment of cocaine worth more than €1 million.
Also in September, police in Italy announced they had dismantled a Greek-Albanian drugs cartel that had been supplying the Italian mafia with a wide range of drugs. Ninety-nine people were arrested after authorities seized 117kg of cocaine, 4,629kg of marijuana, 90kg of hashish and 850 grams of heroin.