Legitimate crops to replace cannabis on Albania's "marijuana mountain"
Once Europe’s cannabis capital, the southern Albanian village of Lazarat is now one of 100 villages in the country selected by the government to have their infrastructure upgraded.
The aim is to boost agribusiness in the villages by promoting local agricultural products. This should help to alleviate the poverty in Lazarat after large-scale cannabis cultivation was virtually wiped out there and across Albania.
At its peak, about half of Albania’s GDP was earned from the cultivation of cannabis. Much of the production was located around Lazarat, which produced 900 tonnes of cannabis annually worth €4.5bn until Tirana launched a major operation to wipe out cannabis cultivation at Lazarat in 2014.
The assault on Lazarat came as Tirana sought approval from EU foreign ministers to get candidate status from the bloc. As Albania continues the fierce fight against drug trafficking, Prime Minister Edi Rama claimed in 2017 that Albania is no longer Europe's cannabis capital.
“The cannabis industry is dying. We are aiming to bring it to a full stop, once and for all, by the end of this year,” the prime minister said.
Following the crackdown most youngsters left the village, which has a population of just over 3,000, while elderly people who have remained there can hardly manage to make ends meet and have to buy on credit from the village store.
Local journalists who have visited the village recently say the young men who used to cruise the streets in luxury cars have moved abroad or to Tirana, and the luxury villas built on illegal proceeds are now crumbling, Tirana Times reported.
Still, by including Lazarat in the 100 villages programme, the government could create new opportunities for legal businesses to emerge.
Aside from agribusiness, “agro-tourism is another potential development in the framework of the 100 villages project where the programme will focus on investments, infrastructure, improvements in public services, incentives and grants for agro-tourism,” the agriculture ministry said in the statement.
Lazarat is around 30 kilometres away from the Greek border and just seven kilometres from the Unesco World Heritage site of Gjirokastra, whose historic bazaar is getting a World Bank funded revamp.
But for those nostalgic for the bad old days, there will be a chance to revisit the past with the release of Lazarat Burning, an action thriller based on the real story of Lazarat. Due for release in 2018, it stars Italian actor Gabriel Garko, perhaps best known for his full frontal scene while playing a Nazi officer in the erotic melodrama Senso ‘45.
Residents of the village have voiced concerns that the movie will further worsen stereotypes about them and Albania as a cannabis producing country.
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