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News 24 Jul 15

Albanian Police Comb Mountains For Drugs Farms

Albanian police say that after major crackdowns on marijuana growers in 2014, the farmers have changed their strategy - using small plots hidden in the mountains, which are hard to locate.

Gjergj Erebara
BIRN
Tirana
 
  Police officers searching for marijuana plantations in remote areas of Dukagjin on August 2014. Photo: Albanian State Police

Albania police on Thursday said they had uprooted 216,000 marijuana plants over the last six months, almost the same amount as in the previous year - adding that growers have changed their strategy by planting smaller plots, making it harder for the police to find them.

“Due to the mass operations last year in Lazarati and Dukagjini, marijuana growing has changed. We have seen a reduction in cultivated areas but now cultivation is scattered over a much larger number of plots,” the police noted in a press release.

An Italian surveillance plane operated by the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's primary agency for suppressing the drugs trade, is helping the Albanian authorities scan the territory and identify these small plots, often planted by farmers far away from roads and villages.

On Thursday, police officers on land coordinating with the Italian plane found and destroyed about 6,100 plants scattered in several plots in the mountainous area of Tepelena in southern Albania.

Albania police last June clamped down on marijuana growing in the notoriously unruly village of Lazarat, a place known as Albania's “marijuana capital”. The major police operation ended almost two decades of lawlessness in this area.

On August 2014, another massive operation involving about 300 police officers destroyed an estimated 86,000 plants in Dukagjin area, a mountainous region in northern Albania.  

However, marijuana growing has clearly not gone away as a result of these law enforcement operations.

“During 2014, 530,177 marijuana plants were destroyed,” police said. “This year, 261,699 more plants were uprooted so far,” they added.

Marijuana growing in Albania is a major problem for law enforcement agencies in both Italy and Albania due to the enormous volume of trade that it creates for crime rings.

While Albanian farmers earn only up to 300 euros for every dry kilo of marijuana, smugglers on the other side in Italy can earn as much as 5,000 euros per kilo.

It is estimated that hundreds of tons of marijuana are exported every year from Albania toward other countries, mainly Italy and Greece.

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