Crime Ties Exposed in North Macedonia Medicinal Cannabis Boom

It was not the only case of suspect capital in North Macedonia's medicinal cannabis industry, a BIRN investigation has found, suggesting that a determination to promote the sector has led to lapses in the vetting of potential investors.

Excerpt from the 2001 White Paper of the Serbian Ministry of Interior. Photo by BIRN

Link to convicted drug trafficker, later pardoned

North Macedonia legalised the cultivation of medical cannabis in 2015 and gave the task of monitoring investors to a five-person commission under the health ministry which is expected to track production in minute detail and conduct inspections of each plantation twice a year.

But it was only after Zaev came to power in 2017 that the industry really took off. He made predictions of 250 million euros in revenues, new development, and new jobs.

By the time Zaev left office in 2021, more than 60 companies had permits, which came with strict rules on how such operations should be run, including rigorous record-keeping and high standards of security, from video surveillance to tall fences. Around half are actually producing.

The rules, however, did not stop the owners of the plantation in the Ohrid region from growing many more plants than they actually reported to the state, according to police records from July 13 last year. Having reported only 600 of the 1,000 plants they grew, the owners had taken the audacious step of planting another 2,000 outside the original plantation, in the open air, which is strictly forbidden.

Police found seven kilos of cannabis buds more than had been reported to authorities; there was even a second floor where cannabis oil was being extracted, despite the fact the plantations did not have the...

Continue reading on: