EU Cannabis Market Report: Western Balkan countries identified as important suppliers

The Western Balkan region has long been important in the supply of cannabis to the EU market. Cannabis is grown both indoors and outdoors throughout the region. However, the period 2017-2021. it is characteristic of the sudden drop in seizures of herbal cannabis. Some of the seizures were made in the territory of Montenegro, and a certain number of plantations of this plant were also discovered.

In the EU, it is estimated that around 84 million adults (aged 15-64) have tried cannabis at some point in their lives, and 22.6 million have used cannabis in the last year. There is a relatively high proportion of use among young European adults, with an estimated 8.6 million people aged between 15 and 24 having used cannabis in the past year and 4.5 million in the last month (EMCDDA, 2023b).

According to the analysis “EU drug market: cannabis — criminal networks”, while in 2017 more than 84 tons were seized at the regional level, mainly in Albania, this amount has significantly decreased to around 19.5 tons in 2019 and 14 tons in 2021 year.

  • This drop in seizures appears to have been influenced by a change in cannabis cultivation in the Western Balkans region since 2016, with less cannabis being grown outdoors. It can be said that this was influenced by the great eradication efforts in Albania, where the operations were undertaken in cooperation with the Italian “Guardia di Finanza”. Overall, the situation has become more diverse and complex, with an increasing number of countries in the region reporting large closed cannabis cultivation sites, with some of the drug likely destined for export. The countries of the Western Balkans are also important suppliers of cannabis to other countries in the region and to Turkey. Albania was considered the main source of non-EU herbal cannabis destined for the European market before 2018, but since then neighboring countries such as Greece, Italy and North Macedonia have reported a significant decrease in seizures of Albanian cannabis. Although available information indicates an increase in production in other countries of the Western Balkans, no intensification of cross-border cannabis trade has been recorded to date. However, it appears that cannabis trafficking routes into the EU and neighboring countries are still active. It appears that some of the criminal networks in the Western Balkans involved in the EU cannabis trade and production within the EU are also linked to the wholesale cocaine trade in Europe – part of the report published by Europol.

According to them, the cannabis smuggled from the Western Balkans to the EU is mostly transported by land, for example to Hungary and Croatia. It is also transported by sea to Italy, Greece and Turkey. Approximately 48 percent of the herbal cannabis seized in Greece in 2020 was believed to be of Albanian origin, a decrease from previous years’ figures.

  • The trade of herbal cannabis to Italy also seems to have declined in recent years, as evidenced by seizure data and fewer interceptions of speedboats crossing the Adriatic Sea. However, maritime routes are still used, as suggested by the recent seizure of tons of herbal cannabis from a sailboat and speedboat off the coast of Vlora, Albania, in August 2022, with the drug likely destined for sale in Italy, the report said.

The illegal market for cannabis products is the largest drug market in Europe. Cannabis is also the most commonly consumed illicit drug in Europe and around the world. In 2021, globally, an estimated 219 million adults (aged 15 to 64) used cannabis in the past year, an increase of 4.8 percent from 2020.

  • The cannabis plant synthesizes at least 144 unique compounds known as cannabinoids. The most common of these is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can produce effects such as feeling “high” or relaxed and altered perception. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most abundant cannabinoid commonly produced in the cannabis plant. CBD has been found to offset some of the possible adverse effects of THC (such as memory impairment, anxiety, and paranoid episodes) without affecting the pleasurable effects that users generally seek, the report said.
  • As noted, the large share of the European market for cannabis products supplies a wide range of diverse criminal networks that are adaptable, flexible and composed of individuals from EU and non-EU countries. Criminals operating within the EU take advantage of and can to some extent drive the high demand for drugs in Europe.
  • They are involved in the cultivation of the plant and the production of various related products, mainly a range of cannabis herbal products and, to a lesser extent, other products such as cannabis resin. In addition, the European market is also supplied from non-EU countries. This includes primarily Morocco for resin cannabis and, to a lesser extent, the countries of the Western Balkans for herbal cannabis. In addition, there are indications that North America is emerging as a source of cannabis for EU markets.

Source: Europol

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