When police officers entered the small Albanian village of Lazarat in 2014, the well-planned cannabis operation turned out to be a mammoth-scale one. No, it was definitely not simply another anti-marijuana job the government took care of, it was something HUGE not merely on a national but on a global level.
Armored vehicles, special forces, and even firepower were employed in order to seize and destroy thousands of cannabis plants alongside tonnes of marijuana.
Welcome to Europe’s biggest weed producer: the Southern Albanian village of Lazarat.
Soon after the marijuana operation took place, the peaceful village of Lazarat ended up being referred to as the unofficial pot capital of Europe, as well as the Colombia of Europe.
The massive cannabis operation resulted in an estimated 30% decrease of the illegal cannabis cultivation in the country, yet at what cost?
Some might think of the locals who were engaged in cannabis growing as criminals who deserved their penalties because of not obliging the laws.
However, do these people really deserve to be treated as scrumptious law offenders or drug dealers because of the fact they were trying to escape from the ravages of poverty by choosing to grow the only crop that could have possibly helped them build a better future not only for themselves but also for their beloved ones?
So, what happened after what was titled Europe’s largest known producer of outdoor-grown cannabis got busted by the police? In a nutshell, it simply became the former biggest weed producer of Europe.
The Well-Entrenched Marijuana Industry of Lazarat: Torn Between Poverty and the Political Situation in the Country
Located in Gjirokastër County, Southern Albania, the population of the tiny village of Lazarat is one of as few as 2801 people based on 2011 census.
Interestingly, the population of Lazarat consists of Muslim Albanians, and in particular, of Muslim Albanians of whom a dominant part have traditionally been Bektashi, named after AleviWali (saint) Haji BektashVeli.
When taking into account that the Bektashis have managed to preserve their utmost tolerance to all religions regardless of the fact that the Beshiktashis themselves have been victims of persecution for years, it seems quite bitterly ironical when thinking of what happened in the village of Lazarat inhabited by the Bektashi descendants.
At the very core of the Bektashi beliefs, it is all about being human.
As beautifully explained by the spiritual leader of the Bektashis order – Baba Mondi (the Dedebaba) –the Bektashi community is built on the principles of mutual respect, peace, and love.
Founded in the 16th century, Lazarat is situated on the very slopes of the Mali i Gjerë mountain.
For centuries, the major activity that supported the local economy was none other but agriculture.
So, what are the factors that made the peaceful village of Lazaratend in the top global news after the massive anti-drugs cannabis operation in 2014?
In a nutshell, the short answer is quite straightforward: poverty.
Just as one of the cannabis growers in Lazart shared when asked why the locals choose to grow something that is illegal, the lack of well paid jobs, the overall lack of work, and ultimately, the lack of money is to blame.
After all, when you know that your well-being depends on growing a plant that provides unparalleled profit as compared with anything else you might choose to grow, the choices seem rather limited.
If we look back into the rather complex history accompanied by the complicated political situation in Albania, it is easy to see that the locals have lived under a closed, punishing regime for years.
Finally, once communism fell, there came a period which was greatly marked by civil unrest, as well as the fast growth of organized crime.
And so, twenty five years later, unemployment in the country of Albania remained very high.
Furthermore, corruption rife is extremely high, too. All of these conditions gradually enabled the marijuana trade to flourish.
However, it is crucial to highlight that it is not the national but the international marijuana trade that managed to flourish thanks to the complicated situation in the country.
The thin line between what is deemed right and what is deemed wrong based on government rules, being highly dependent on the consequences related to the politician situation in a country, simply starts to get very, very blurred.
It is more than logical to commit to doing the only thing that can help you live a normal, decent life. Really, don’t get to think of the Lazarat weed farmers as rich men and women, for they definitely didn’t get rich by growing weed, regardless of the hard work, sweat, efforts, and dedication they have put into the job
Did Lazarat Weed Growers Get Rich by Cultivating over 900 Tonnes of Marijuana Annually?
As briefly mentioned above, it is definitely not the cannabis growers in the village of Albania who got rich by growing tonnes of the pot.
When journalists entered the village after the massive cannabis operation took place, many of them were thinking that they are about to witness luxurious palaces built close to the fields where the green gold crop has been grown by the locals. However, they actually came across quite the opposite of luxury.
The struggling farmers were dressed in thrifty skinny jeans, plain trainers, tops or T-shirts that appeared quite worn out. Living in humble, frugal houses, many of which tumble-down and/or half-built, the Lazarat villagers did not come even close to what many of us would associate with drug barons.
Moreover, since literally everyone in the tiny Albanian village was engaged in growing weed, and since this logically seemed to be common knowledge, then how come there was no raid by the police for so long?
As the local weed growers claimed, they paid 20% of their pot profit to the police. Meanwhile, in Albania, 1 kilogram of weed estimated worth is set at approximately 100 – 200 euro (roughly 140 – 250 US dollars).
However, there is barely any significant home market for the weed produced in Albania. According to drug trafficking experts, the enormous amounts of weed grown in the village of Lazarat were sold at much higher prices when trafficked out through the north borders reaching Montenegro, as well as through the west border (the Adriatic Sea) reaching Italy, and nonetheless, through the south borders reaching Greece.
When exported, the illicit marijuana industry of Albania is estimated to hit the mind-blowing annual worth of 4.5 billion euros – money that never really went into the pockets of the people who risked their freedom and well-being, and who paid with sleepless nights, waking up early in the morning and spending day after day in the fields growing the cash crops that made other people helluva rich!
As a matter of fact, it was not solely the tiny village of Lazarat whose inhabitants got involved in growing pot. Tucked into the very foothills of the mountains, the town of Rreshen was also one of the major weed producers in Albania. Locals claim that police officers destroyed well over 2 million cannabis plants in 2016 alone.
Ultimately, how much does growing weed in Albania pay when it comes to the local weed growers? Based on BBC reports, Albanian cannabis growers earn about 20 euro (about 25 US dollars) a day. What a fortune, huh?
Instead of focusing on who gets the biggest piece of the cake when it comes to the money earned through illegal weed growing and trading, maybe it is high time to switch to a much higher perspective.
Ultimately, who profits from marijuana being illegal? Every year, huge amounts of money are poured into fighting drug trafficking, including the trafficking of marijuana, yet we keep failing to achieve the results government claim to be striving for.
Doesn’t it seem like the simplest, easiest, and simultaneously, most brilliant move to simply put an end to the ban on marijuana so that people engaged in both growing, as well as distributing the precious herb can finally get decent earnings while also greatly contributing to the gross domestic production rates?
It seems that at some point in the quite foreseeable future, we might be literally forced to change the pervert ways we are used to treating cannabis cultivation, possession and use as something dirty and illegal. That’s large because of the dire measure we need to take in order to not only fight poverty rates but to counteract climate crisis, as there is no time left to lose.
Can Growing Cannabis Help to Decrease World Poverty Rates and Save the Planet?
While the list of advanced countries across Europe has finally started to look into marijuana legalization, as well as stepping on the global scene of cannabis, Albania is definitely not part of this list.
In fact, up-to-date, about 8% of the world population (or more than 500 000 000 people!) live in extreme poverty.
Now, you might ask yourself, what does cannabis have to do with poverty rates anyway?
The truth is, expanding our collective understanding and acceptance of cannabis can be one of the keys to curbing poverty rates once and for all.
With this in mind, Lazarat’s examples are just one of the thousands of other places on Earth where people are suffering because of the government’s negligence and greed. We keep being stuck in some crazy anti-marijuana movements while global marijuana legalization is sure to help in dealing with an immense number of issues that threaten the well-being of mankind on the planet.
Growing cannabis comes with multiple unique benefits which extend from a person through a national and all the way to a global level.
First off, when speaking about cannabis plants, we must not forget that it is not only the psychoactive cannabis varieties that can greatly help to boost local economies by opening new jobs and providing people with new opportunities for business and personal growth.
Hemp plants being marijuana plants’ closest relatives have invaluable implications that we need to embrace and comprehend as soon as possible, for our time to act is very, very limited if we want to put a stop to the climate crisis.
Yes, bud buddies, it is no longer about climate change. As the young eco-activist Greta Thunberg shared through her social media profiles, it is high time that we start referring to the changes in the climate with their real names: ecological crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, climate breakdown, ecological emergency.
Ironically, cannabis plants, being misunderstood and mistreated by our modern-day societies, can, indeed, become one of the most important players in building the greener, better, sustainable future that we need so badly.
With this in mind, despite the many uncertainties and despite the many misfortunate situations we come to witness, such as the way millions of invaluable cannabis plants were brutally destroyed in Albania, we should not forget about all the blessings and advantages we have nowadays.
Never before was it so easy to learn how to grow cannabis from seed, and never before has it been so easy to find high-quality seeds available at the very tip of your finger when browsing the web.
Out of the numerous fancy named strains, one might choose to grow such as Jack Herer, Maui Waui, Blueberry, and White Widow, we should not forget that when growing and consuming cannabis, we have the opportunity to do our unique bit for the environment.
Choose not only your marijuana seeds and growing methods wisely but also choose your cannabis products wisely. Support local cannabis growers who grow marijuana organically, and support brands and products that work for the better of the living nature. It is that simple. Don’t ever dare to think that you are too small to make a difference. It is just one plastic bottle – said 7.7 billion people, remember?
Europe’s Biggest Weed Producer: Final Thoughts
According to the native inhabitants of Europe’s biggest weed producing village of Lazarat – the Bektashis – the main enemies of humanity are none other but ignorance, poverty, and egoism. All of these enemies can be counterfeited through embracing and applying the core principles that reside in weed culture: acceptance, letting go, forgiveness, oneness, sharing, sense of community, sense of belonging, respect for all living creatures, flower power over money.
We live in the most dramatic times for mankind. We are obliged to turn a back around to the old ways that keep failing to bring the results that we need to accomplish. Old ways won’t open new doors, right? Cannabis is nothing but peace and love, despite the bitter fact a gorgeous plant has been a victim of persecution, terror, racism, discrimination, and violence for far too long… And, in fact, we can learn so much from the Albanian weed farmers’ attitude towards marijuana which is laced in bravery and the total lack of any desire to stop what they are doing since they are forcefully brought to live in poverty. If you’re looking for more inspiration regarding Albania as Europe’s biggest weed producer, then make sure to put the eponymous film The Brave in your must watch list.