Albania cracks down on cannabis trade ahead of hoped-for EU talks – Financial Times

Sitting despondently in a Tirana café, Elez admits to having second thoughts about cultivating cannabis for a living.

“I’m not making real money this year and I’m scared of getting arrested . . . Prices [for cannabis producers] have collapsed and the police are swarming everywhere in our district,” says the unemployed 30-year-old from Lushnje in central Albania.

Elez expects to earn just €250-€300 from his small cannabis plantation, which is located in a forest to avoid its being spotted by a police helicopter or an aerial surveillance mission operated by Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, the country’s financial police, in co-operation with the Albanian government.

This is substantially less than last year when he earned more than €3,000 from a crop grown on his family farm, after paying a 10 per cent “tax” to local officials “who looked the other way”.

Thousands of small producers like Elez have made Europe’s second-poorest country its biggest open-air producer of cannabis, exported mainly to western Europe through Greece and Italy. But as Albania tries to clean up its act ahead of hoped-for EU accession talks next year, the government is cracking down on the drug trade. In the past year alone, the area under plantation has dropped by 75 per cent.

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