As the United States inches toward the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, Albania has a different plan for what to do with the drug: destroy as much of it as it can.
And on Wednesday Albanian police announced they’re closer than ever to doing just that, after destroying 690,000 cannabis plants — 99.2 percent of the country’s total — since the beginning of this year. The claims couldn’t be independently verified.
That’s 140,000 more plants than were destroyed last year, when police said they’d wiped out 550,000 of them, along with 102 tons of marijuana, the market value for which was around $8.5 billion — more than two-thirds of Albania’s GDP.
Albanian-grown marijuana has long been a key part of the international drug trade in the region, much of which is run by violent criminal rings. Local officials believe that destroying the marijuana could help cut off financial flow to these groups, even if it will damage the economy in regions where prosperity has relied on marijuana production. Albania’s crackdown on the drug trade intensified as the government became more eager to join the European Union, where they are now an official candidate for accession. To destroy the drug trade is, in the government’s eyes, key to increasing the tiny country’s likelihood of official EU membership.
And Washington seems to agree.
The U.S. tapped a federal prosecutor and an FBI agent to assist Albanian police in their efforts to destroy the crop, which they track using aerial maps. But however successful Albanian officials claim the destruction of these plants to be, the process hasn’t been smooth sailing all along.
In June, a police officer was shot dead by a disgruntled drug grower when authorities launched a raid 125 miles south of the capital of Tirana.
“The fight against drugs knows no end,” Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said Wednesday. “It has a high cost and it is extremely difficult, but it continues.”
Image Credit: GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images