From: Alice Taylor
State Police Accuse Media of ‘False News’ Over Cannabis Cultivation Reporting and Images

The State Police have said the media, the public and political actors have been spreading “false news” and misinformation regarding the cultivation of cannabis in the country.

In a lengthy statement posted on their official website, they “invited media to apply professional standards in news reporting to provide the public with verified facts and grounded opinions.”

They accused the media of “irresponsible insinuations and film footage that is ‘sold’ as current images only misinform citizens and unjustly damage the image of the country.”

The statement comes after a double murder this week in the Malesia e Madhe area of the country. Two cousins, Vilson Cuta and Emiliano Pepaj were found shot in a mountainous area near the village of Vrithi. Police arrested Rrok Pepaj for cannabis cultivation. It’s believed that Rrok’s son, Daniel was being investigated for the murders over the robbery of 29 cannabis plants.

According to the police, individuals and media have been using old footage of cannabis farms in Albania to “create unjustified alarm about cannabis cultivation”. They called such actions “unsubstantiated opinions” and “arbitrary conclusions” as well as accusing media of being unethical.

They also said that those posting the images haven’t shown any willingness to share information with the police regarding claims about cannabis cultivation in the country. This, they said, raises doubts about the veracity of the allegations made.

In the statement, the police claim that 2020 “is another year of depending success in the fight against cannabis cultivation” thanks to the efforts of the police. They said that their crackdown on criminals in the country has been strong and that the amount of cannabis in the country has reached “very low levels”.

Additionally, they said that “the amount seized in neighbouring countries which have traditionally been destinations for this criminal activity has reached the lowest historical levels recorded.”

The “indisputable achievements” of the police was reflected in the latest report from the European Commission and international partners which monitor its work.

The facts are that Albania is 6th globally for cannabis resin imports to Europe according to the World Drug Report from the United Nations. This covered a time frame between 2014 and 2018. During this time, it declined but was then on an upward trajectory from 2018.

Earlier this year, the Italian Antimafia division reported for 2019 that Albania is Europe’s main marijuana source. It also said the country is a key transit point. for heroin coming in from Afghanistan and Central Asia. It added that revenue from these activities is often reinvested into Albania in tourism and construction.

RAI3 also reported that cultivation of cannabis in Albania had increased by 1200% in the last year (2019). Albanian authorities vehemently denied the accusation, made by Italian Prosecutor Giacomo Cataldi and reported by journalist Valerio Cataldi.

The Belgrade Centre for Security and Policy predicted that cannabis cultivation in Albania would increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This would be due to a lack of police supervision as their work is directed elsewhere. It noted that cannabis is still “very much present on the market” in the region.

Europol also echoed this prediction. It noted that Albania, “a producer of herbal cannabis for the European market” was likely to produce more of the drug due to law enforcement resources being diverted to managing the pandemic.

Then in June, Minister of the Interior Sander Lleshaj admitted during a virtual meeting with the Chief of the State Police, Ardi Veliu, that cannabis was being cultivated in the country’s main districts. These included Gjirokastra, Shkodra, Durres, Vlora, Lezha, Berat and Elbasan.

Most recently, the Civil Society Observatory said that Albanians are shifting from growing cannabis locally and are growing it indoors in Western Europe instead. The report states that while Albania has favourable growing conditions, complemented by weak governance and corruption, robust police crackdowns since 2017 have just displaced it elsewhere. This includes countries like Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

It also predicted that 2020 could see an increase in production due to the COVVID-19 lockdown.

The police statement did not provide any facts and figures to refute various claims that they made.