Albania has opened a wider berth for industrial hemp, setting the THC limit at 0.8% for crops in the field but placing CBD under highly restrictive rules that allow only exports.
The Albanian Parliament recently voted 69-23 to pass a cannabis bill that embraces both hemp and medical marijuana. All marijuana and hemp extracts – including CBD and other minor cannabinoids derived from hemp – are considered medical cannabis products under the Albanian law, and may only be produced for outside markets.
The new law calls for the establishment of a National Cannabis Control Agency (NCCA), which will be responsible for implementing the law and oversight of both sectors. The Agency, under the authority of the health minister, will set rules, carry out inspections of cannabis fields, and monitor processing and production.
The law places no limits on the volume of hemp which can be grown for grain and fiber, and will allow for the creation of a domestic market for those outputs, according to Joe Spencer, Chairman of the National Albanian Hemp Industry Association.
“We believe that Albania’s new industrial hemp regulations will provide a sustainable economic future for agriculture-dependent rural communities,” Spencer said. “Development of the hemp grain and fiber industry will not only increase agriculture employment but also employment within the manufacturing industries.”
The hemp production chain will be under a mandatory track-and-trace scheme, Spencer said.
What 0.8% means
By setting the THC limit for hemp plants at 0.8%, Albanian lawmakers struck something of a compromise. While the EU-wide standard was recently raised from 0.2% to 0.3% – also the current level in the U.S. – many countries in different parts of the world have raised the limit to a full 1.0% THC as the line of demarcation between hemp and marijuana. Higher levels help shield farmers from problems that can arise when crops go “hot” – or over established limits. Also, the higher limit makes CBD production more efficient because CBD rises in proportion to THC in industrial hemp plants.
The NCCA is to establish a licensing commission, which will administer permits for farming, processing, and imports of seeds and starts. The commission will also control licensing for production and distribution of medical cannabis products, which may only be produced for export markets and may not be sold in Albania.
Hemp was legalized in Albania in 2004. The Albanian government first announced its intention to clarify hemp laws and legalize medical cannabis in June last year.
CBD, MMJ restrictions
Under the highly restrictive export-only plan for medical marijuana and CBD, those seeking licenses must have roughly $1 million in capital and own 51% of the company’s shares. They must also have at least three years of experience in the cultivation, production and distribution of such products, and a five-year business track record in one of the countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They are also required to have held good manufacturing practices (GMP) certification from either the European Medicines Agency or the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for at least three years.
Additionally, medical marijuana and hemp CBD licensees can grow a maximum of only ten hectares of cannabis each, with the overall national limit set at 200 hectares nationwide.
Albania and cannabis
The cultivation and export of hemp from Albania for seed-based oil and textiles were allowed in the 1970s and 1980s. But the industry collapsed in the early 1990s and dried up altogether after the government officially classified the plant as a narcotic in 1995, strictly prohibiting production.
Albania is one of the largest outdoor producers of illegal marijuana in Europe, and has long been a major hub for drug trafficking. Recreational and medical marijuana are controlled substances under Albania’s Law on Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances of 1994, and may not be grown or traded. Efforts by the government to crack down on illegal trade have been largely ineffective.
Albanian agriculture is based mainly on small family farms and accounts for roughly 20% of total exports. Albania is the world’s 11th-largest producer of olive oil. Other crops include medicinal and herbal plants, which bring some $60 million in export income annually, and tobacco, wheat, corn, potatoes, and fruits and vegetables. Among challenges faced by the farming sector are uncertain land ownership rights, lack of bank credits, and high value-added tax.