Individuals and organised crime compete to grow cannabis for the lucrative European market.
By Aleksandar Pavelevski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 07/08/12
Albanian police destroy cannabis plants near Vlora, 180km south of Tirana. [Reuters]
Growing cannabis plants to produce marijuana, hashish and cannabis oil is a growing practice throughout the Balkans, but experts said that the region's governments should do more to eradicate the plant.
"Cannabis is the most common, inexpensive and easily available source of natural drugs in regional and in European markets," Frosina Remenski, security studies professor at University St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, told SETimes.
"Albania and the Netherlands are the biggest producers of cannabis in Europe. Profits from the illegal sale of cannabis products in the Netherlands are 10 billion euros annually," Remenski said.
The International Board for Narcotics Control said that Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia are sources of cannabis which is used elsewhere in Europe.
One route from Albania includes smuggling the drugs into Macedonia by horse, boats or in cargo vehicles hidden among other legal merchandise, according to police.
While a smaller portion remains in Macedonia for the domestic drug market -- there are 9,000 registered users -- the rest is transported to Greece, Italy and Turkey.
"Police have given clues which indicate the trade goes on in Kosovo and Montenegro as well to exchange marijuana for heroin or other drugs," Remenski said.
This year, the Italian Navy seized five tonnes of marijuana from Albania. The Italian police's latest operation netted 250kg of cannabis -- with a market value of 2m euros -- which individuals tried to smuggle by boat through the Otranski Channel in the Adriatic.
A new, more potent marijuana breed from the Netherlands is being grown in Lazarat, a village in southern Albania known as the country's cannabis capital.
Albanian special police units entered the village amid gunfire from residents on July 11th and destroyed over 6,000 plants and arrested two people.
Marijuana is now being grown in Macedonia's northwest, close to the border with Kosovo and Albania, Remenski said. Repeated police sting operations uncovered planted parcels camouflaged by other crops in and around Tetovo, Gostivar, Struga, Kumanovo and Skopje.
Macedonian authorities have seized over 2.6 tonnes in the past decade with a street value of up to 2m euros.