Albanian cannabis moves indoors.

Albania is notorious for its cannabis cultivation industry. In 2014, one village, Lazarat, was even dubbed by the BBC as Europe’s ‘outdoor cannabis capital’.1 But, for a number of reasons, there seems to be a shift in the source market as Albanians are becoming more involved in growing cannabis indoors in Western Europe.

Significant amounts of cannabis have been grown in Albania since the early the 1990s. Following the collapse of communism, the country became a major source of cannabis for the European market. Albania has favourable growing conditions, and the market was stimulated by weak governance, corruption and geography – the country is close to Greece, Italy and central Europe. Poverty and opportunism in the wake of a chaotic transition to democracy and a free market economy also led to a surge in Albanian cannabis production.2

Within a decade, as growing techniques became more efficient and trafficking routes more established, cannabis cultivation in Albania grew into a billion-euro business. This illicit economy supported the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers, injected drug profits into politics and business, and enriched Albanian traffickers at home and abroad.

Although cannabis has been produced the length and breadth of the country, by the early 2000s the epicentre was a village in the south called Lazarat. It became a dark yet open secret, an untouchable area of cannabis cultivation that enriched the local economy, politicians and traffickers. A change of government in 2013 followed by pressure exerted by the international community led to a major crackdown, involving at one stage a protracted gunfight between police and well-armed cannabis growers, in Lazarat in June 2014.3

However, the problem was not solved by the intervention – it was merely displaced. Cannabis cultivation swept across the country in 2016, a year that saw a bumper crop and massive profits.4 Instead of being concentrated in a few isolated areas like Lazarat and the Dukagjini Highlands in the north, the valuable weed was soon being grown in almost every part of the country. This enabled Albanian traffickers to move up the value chain – investing their cannabis profits in the cocaine market, and some soon became big players in Latin America and Western Europe.5

Number of cannabis plants eradicated in Albania between 1995 and 2019 (data for 2015–2019 extracted from June–December timeframe).

Figure 1 Number of cannabis plants eradicated in Albania between 1995 and 2019 (data for 2015–2019 extracted from June–December timeframe).

Source: Albanian State Police

Robust police crackdowns since 2017 seem to have had the effect of thwarting cannabis cultivation in Albania. There may be a slight increase in 2020 production levels, although it is too early to tell, especially given the impact of COVID-19 on the crop, as the pandemic hit at around the time when cannabis seeds are sown. On the one hand, farmers may have experienced setbacks in their production because of the lockdown restrictions; on the other, police were probably less vigilant because of other priorities. According to the latest data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during June 2020 police eradicated 36 044 plants, more than twice the amount (14 595) seized in the same month in 2019.6

Unlike five years ago, when cannabis could be obtained for between €150 and €700 a kilogram, today the wholesale cost is €1 300 because of relatively limited supply. While costs are higher, so too are the risks. Transporting a kilogram of cannabis – for example by speedboat across the Adriatic to Italy – allegedly costs around €300 a kilogram. Police have also become more vigilant in Albania and neighbouring countries, making drug trafficking an increasingly risky business.

Today, although Albania remains Europe’s top cannabis producer,7 some criminal groups seem to be shifting their operations to Western Europe, where there is higher demand and less associated risk. Over the past four years, the trend – which can been seen in police activities in Western Europe – seems to be that entrepreneurial Albanian criminals are investing in cultivating indoor cannabis in countries like Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The market forces behind this shift are conducive – demand is high in Western Europe, and so too are profits. A kilogram of cannabis grown indoors in a Western European country sells for around €3 000. That’s about a third more than what Albanian-grown cannabis fetches in Western Europe. When one includes the costs and risks of trafficking the drugs from Albania, the advantages of siting production nearer the end market are clear.

Growing cannabis indoors also makes for a better-quality product. Outdoor cannabis, like any other crop, is vulnerable to weather conditions and other risks that can jeopardize the harvest. Growing cannabis indoors can be done in a controlled environment, the potency or level of THC (the psychoactive substance in the drug) can be regulated, and constant light and controlled watering can accelerate the production cycle, enabling a harvest every three to four months.

Indoor cannabis cultivation.

Indoor cannabis cultivation.

© Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Although farmed cannabis may have significantly dropped off in Albania, Albanians seem to be still active in cannabis cultivation elsewhere. This shift in supply is likely to lead to a corresponding refocusing on the part of law enforcement, with Western European agencies having to deal with a problem now closer to home. Meanwhile, the reduction in cannabis cultivation in the Albanian countryside, which provided a livelihood for many farmers, should be accompanied by a stronger focus on socio-economic assistance to reduce the chances8 of a return to dependency on the drug-production economy.

It is worth noting that there are signs of cannabis cultivation happening elsewhere in the Western Balkans. In a recent high-profile case, police in Serbia arrested the owner of an organic food company, Predrag Koluvija, after 65 581 cannabis plants, around 650 kilograms of dried marijuana, with a total weight of around 3 954kg (4 tonnes) as well as weapons, surveillance equipment and a car equipped with police markings were discovered on the property of his Jovanjica company in Stara Pazova, Vojvodina.9 It is one of the biggest drug hauls in Serbian history.10 The trial, involving the food company owner and eight co-accused, started in July. The case is attracting attention because of the alleged political contacts of the accused as well as accomplices in the state security services.

It remains to be seen whether this is an isolated case or part of a wider trend of increased cannabis cultivation in Serbia and the region. Small cannabis seizures have been reported in Kosovo (where police found 1 753 cannabis plants between January and June 2020),11 and in Bosnia and Herzegovina where, in June, the State Investigation and Protection Agency discovered an indoor growing site in Sarajevo,12 while small plots of outdoor cultivation have also been reported. In North Macedonia, cannabis cultivation for medical purposes has been possible since 2016, although with strict provisions and high criteria for obtaining a license.

The GI-TOC will shed more light on drug markets in the Western Balkans in a report to be issued in early 2021.


  1. Linda Pressly, Europe’s outdoor cannabis capital, BBC News Albania, 1 December 2016,

  2. Fatjona Mejdini and Kristina Amerhauser, Growing like weeds: Rethinking Albania’s culture of cannabis cultivation, GI-TOC, December 2019,

  3. Albanian cannabis growers and 800 police battle in lawless village of Lazarat, The Guardian, 17 June 2014,

  4. Daniela Castro, Albania: Cannabis production far from coming to an end, 5 July 2016,

  5. Walter Kemp, Transnational tentacles: Global hotspots of Western Balkan organized crime, GI-TOC, July 2020,

  6. Statistical Monthly Report of Interior Ministry, Albania, June 2020,

  7. Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, Attività volta e risultati conseguiti dalla Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, July-December 2019,

  8. Nate Tabak, In Europe’s former pot capital, now the only grass is for sheep, PRI, 30 October 2017,

  9. Reuters, Serbia seizes four tonnes of marijuana in organic food farm, 26 November 2019,

  10. Jelena Zorić and Ana Novaković, Specijalna emisija “Jovanjica - kada je cvetala marihuana”, N1, 15 June 2020,

  11. Kosovo General Police Directorate, The Policing in the time of pandemic: Six (6) Month work report of Kosovo Police, January - June 2020,

  12. Noviglas, Objavljen snimak policijske akcije – Otkrivena jedna od najskupljih laboratorija za uzgoj droge u BiH, 11 September 2019,