Albania Goes to War With Pot Farmers

Hundreds of cops descend on lawless village

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 19, 2014 12:15 AM CDT

(Newser) – There's a new war in the Balkans: Albanian police versus the farmers who have made the country Europe's biggest producer of illegal marijuana. After years of turning a blind eye to the trade that rakes in billions of dollars a year—almost half the country's GDP—hundreds of police officers backed by armored vehicles have been deployed to the pot-farming village of Lazarat and are battling villagers armed with RPGs, mortars, and machine guns, the AP reports. The government says it is now in control of around half the village and has burned 11 tons of marijuana, a small fraction of the 900 tons the village is believed to produce every year.

The crackdown, which has only injured one police officer and three villagers despite the heavy gunfire, is part of the new Socialist government's attempt to stamp out the trade and boost its bid to join the European Union, the BBC reports. At Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky says he has a better idea. "Brussels should consider legalizing marijuana throughout the EU," he writes. "Then Albania, with its well-developed cannabis industry, could be welcomed to the union as a country with a legitimate, honorable specialization."

Albanian police enter the lawless village of Lazarat, 140 miles south of Tirana.   (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)
Albanian police forces surround the southern village of Lazarat.   (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)
Smoke rises from Lazarat village, allegedly from villagers burning their cannabis ahead of the police raid.   (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)
Albanian police seize marijuana in a storage building in the lawless village of Lazarat.   (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)
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