Albania has become the largest producer of outdoor-grown cannabis in Europe. The potent plant has been described as “green gold” for struggling farmers. In a poor nation, it’s a billion-euro industry.
Off a dirt road, in a small village north of Tirana, there’s a half-built, tumble-down, brick house. It stands alone and looks abandoned. It isn’t. The sweet, heady odour that seeps from one of the rooms reveals its current function: cannabis production. Inside, more than half the floor space is covered with buds of the drying drug.
“There’s about 20kg here,” says the man who owns it. He is young – late 20s maybe – dressed in skinny jeans, a tight top and trainers. And he is one of thousands making money from the cannabis boom.
In Albania, a kilo of this illegal drug sells for between 100 and 200 euros (£85 to £170). In Italy it will fetch about 1,500 euros. And most of the country’s cannabis crop is trafficked out – north through Montenegro, south to Greece, or west across the Adriatic to Italy. There is no significant home market. One source estimates the illicit industry may be worth five billion euros (£4.25bn) per year – about half of Albania’s GDP.
The 20kg of stinking greenery slowly drying in the sunlight that streams through an open window does not represent this man’s entire crop.
“I’ve produced 350kg,” he says. “This year almost every single house in the village grew cannabis – tons and tons have been produced in this community alone.”
This man employs 15 people to pick and process, and armed guards to defend his crop. He says he is in charge here, but he probably belongs to a wider network. So if everyone is growing it, and that seems to be common knowledge, why has there been no police raid?