Albania becomes the second country in the region after North Macedonia and the 23rd in Europe to legalize cannabis for medical and industrial purposes. The approval was made by 69 votes in favour in the Parliament, 23 voted against, and 3 abstained. The government defends the legalization of cannabis, arguing that it will help the economy and employment, a claim refuted by the experience of our neighbours in North Macedonia. Experts from both countries agree that the fate of cannabis in Albania will be similar to that of North Macedonia.
In the early hours of Friday, 21 July, the Assembly officially opened the way for the legalization of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes in Albania.
“69 votes in favour, 3 abstentions, 23 against. The legislative project is fully approved,” said the Speaker of Parliament, Lindita Nikolla, during the marathon session that concluded the parliamentary session.
The cannabis legislation was opposed by the opposition, which argues that legalization will not boost the economy and may have social consequences for young people. For these reasons, 23 opposition MPs voted against, while 39 others refused to participate in the vote.
The controversial initiative also failed to convince some members of the majority. Former Minister of Justice Fatmir Xhafaj, Pandeli Majko, and Erion Braçe abstained from voting on the cannabis issue.
“Is this the financial activity we need at this time? Is our society ready for this type of activity with significant social, educational, and security risks?” former Socialist Minister Fatmir Xhafa raised as a question from the Parliament’s rostrum.
However, as such a law is passed by a simple majority, the 69 votes were enough for Albania to become the second country in the region to legalize cannabis for medical and industrial purposes.
The law sets the regulatory framework for the cultivation, production, processing, and export of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes, as well as the creation of a special agency for its control and implementation.
Lessons from Our Neighbours on Cannabis
In 2016, while Albania was in a ‘war’ with cannabis plantations, neighbouring North Macedonia legalized it for medical purposes. The government at that time in North Macedonia also aimed to boost the economy and employment through legalization.
“Out of 67 companies licensed to process cannabis extract (oil), only 5 survived. But only one of these companies exports the extract. From a sector that was supposed to bring in 100 million euros in revenue and employ hundreds, we ended up with 2 million euros in cannabis oil sales per year and very few employees in this sector,” says Abil Baush, an economics expert from North Macedonia, for Faktoje.
“Moreover, it’s worth noting that these companies now have warehouses full of cannabis flowers, which represent expenses for the companies since they are prohibited by law from being sold or exported,” Baush continues.
Seven years after the legalization of cannabis in North Macedonia, even economic experts agree that the initiative did not produce the expected results.
“The initiative was presented as an attractive foreign direct investment, which did not happen. The first company that started processing cannabis oil began with investors from the USA, but its identity was never disclosed, which raised many doubts about businesses involving these narcotic substances. On the other hand, serious local pharmaceutical companies never showed interest in this new sector, which was a clear indicator that something was not right,” emphasizes economics professor Abil Baush.
The poor results after the legalization of cannabis in North Macedonia were also acknowledged by Economy Minister Kreshnik Bekteshi.
“It did not produce the desired results due to the legislation we have in force, which allows only the production and export of cannabis oil, and we do not have the necessary technology and market on the part of investors who are making investments in this area. There is almost no export of this product. Regulation and legislation need to be intervened to facilitate trade for this product,” he said last May during a meeting with Finance Minister Delina Ibrahimaj.
Will Albania achieve the expected results?
Former Minister of Economy Zef Preçi sees the fate of cannabis legislation in Albania as similar to that of North Macedonia.
“Macedonia, this model of spectacular failure of ‘cannabis cultivation for medical purposes,’ owns hundreds of tons of stock of this product that has no market to sell, as there is no global market for it. Albania would lose by occupying agricultural land and much-needed labour force at this time; it would trigger the expansion of cultivation areas, creating stocks that would be useless in legal markets. World markets are dominated by the USA, Canada, and even EU countries. It is an activity that requires a specific legal framework, specialized laboratories, a functioning state, and a consumer market. To whom will we offer it, who will be the consumers?” says former Minister Preçi, raising doubts about the true purpose of the cannabis legislation.
“In reality, after the government lobbyists, organized crime networks, and segments of the governing political elite had already ‘arranged’ everything regarding production, processing, storage, etc., their own way, the only thing left to do was to legitimize expert as well, which they did by law, in a pharmaceutical market already saturated, but through an illegal market,” Preçi concludes.
Meanwhile, Filip Gjoka from the Association of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants says that none of the companies in the industry he represents is ready to join cannabis cultivation and processing for medical or industrial purposes.
“None of us, who are currently engaged in the medicinal plants industry, are yet ready to take such an initiative because we need to find a market, which is difficult to do, and the licencing procedure available is so complicated that only a few companies would be able to get a licence,” Gjoka argues for Faktoje.
According to him, the future should be seen without prejudice, but the experience of North Macedonia leaves much to be desired.
The main photograph was taken from the web.