Albania has become the latest European country to officially legalise the ‘cultivation and processing of the cannabis plant and the production of its by-products for medical and industrial purposes’.
The vote, which took place on Friday July 21, has already been met with fierce criticism from both within the ruling Socialist Party and from opposition voices who claim the bill will ‘licence criminal groups’ and make Albania ‘a republic of cannabis’.
While the debate continues over whether the development will help or hinder the proliferation of the country’s criminal organisations, which continue to be a major force in drug trafficking across Europe, others have suggested it could have significant implications for the wider European industry.
SOMAÍ Pharmaceuticals CEO Michael Sassano tells Business of Cannabis that the bill will ‘put pressure’ on cultivation operations in neighbouring countries.
On June 16, Albania’s Council of Ministers voted to approve a draft bill to legalise the production of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.
Following a three hour debate running into the early hours of Saturday morning, the Albanian Parliament voted by 69 votes to 23 to approve the bill.
The new law aims to regulate the cultivation, processing, circulation and export of cannabis, its by-products and its final products for both medical and industrial purposes.
Another key driving force behind the bill, other than attempting to regulate the country’s existing illicit cannabis market, is to ‘grow the economy’ and generate income through taxation.
Under the new law, any person with three years of experience in the production, cultivation and circulation of cannabis for medical purposes in one of the countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) can now request a licence.
This stipulation for three years of experience has been criticised by a number of local experts who warned that it could mean ‘foreign entrepreneurs’ rather than Albanian citizens were more likely to benefit, as ‘practically none’ of the current Albanian cannabis companies meet this requirement.
Licences will be granted by a newly formed ‘national cannabis control agency’ and will last for 15 years, with verification of licence conditions being met conducted every three years.
“The national registry of licensed entities will regulate the controlled production of cannabis for medical purposes. The medical licence provides for the transport of seeds, plants and even products and by-products”, said Minister of Health, Ogerta Manastirliu said.
This agency will reportedly cooperate with the Albanian police and parts of the Ministry of Health, Agriculture and Interior of Albania, and will be granted powers to impose sanctions for anyone who violates the conditions of the newly imposed legal framework.
Cheap cultivation, but no domestic medical market
While the cultivation of cannabis for various purposes has now been approved, there was little clarification on the legal status of medical cannabis within Albania.
This means that cannabis grown in Albania may only be allowed for export to the rest of Europe.
Furthermore, the new law states that the maximum area that can be cultivated across the entire country is 200 hectares.
Despite this, Mr Sassano explained: “(Albania’s)EU neighbours Greece and even continental Macedonia, are older cultivation countries and will have much to worry about since Albania has a lower cost structure to both and conditions for growing which are less humid and more beneficial in many parts.
“More European cultivator countries like Albania will truly change the landscape and put pressure on local EU cultivators from more expensive regions and regions with less light, like Denmark.”
During the debates ahead of the vote, discussion also turned to Albania’s significant potential for industrial hemp cultivation given its rich soil and ideal climate.
The new law will reportedly aim to strictly control how hemp is cultivated while continuing to promote hemp businesses as it develops.