As the blacked-out Mercedes with British plates pulls up at the kerb a man in his early twenties can be seen at the wheel.
Still with barely enough hair on his cheeks to warrant a full shave and acne on his chin, he leans back and ashes a cigarette out the window.
“I bought this from working a couple of months in London,” he tells us adding, with a smirk on his face, “I was in ‘construction’.”
We all knew this wasn’t the truth. Regardless of how hard-pushed Britain’s builders might be for labour, there was no way this lanky man in a designer tracksuit was earning enough to buy a high-end Merc from a short stint in a hi-vis vest. He got it from working in a cannabis farm.
The Merc driver was one of the many “London guys” we spotted during our trip to Albania this month. From the mountains of the north to the busy streets of Tirana their displays of wealth were everywhere.
Almost every time we spoke to a person with relatives in Britain, cannabis farms were mentioned, either the fact they wanted to make it clear their loved ones weren’t working in them or simply to state that they were.
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“Half my relatives work in construction and the other half work in drug houses,” a teenager told us in a typical exchange. It was mind-blowing how mundane it was.
Whether we like it or not Britain has for years been the biggest consumer of drugs in Europe. Our large and lucrative market is a magnet for drug dealers from all over the world, so it’s no surprise Albanian gangs, who’ve already taken over the cocaine trade, would focus on the UK.
But it was still shocking how mainstream an activity once considered utterly taboo by people in the former Communist bloc nation had become.
Young men are dropping out of university degrees to cross the Channel and risk death in drug production while average hardworking Albanians struggle to buy homes in a market distorted by money laundering dealers.
The option of marrying a rich drug house worker has even reduced the chances of young Albanian women being targets for sex traffickers.
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It’s not hard to see the appeal of working in a London drug house for an Albanian teenager.
They wake up every day to social media news feeds featuring videos of young men in UK drug farms earning money while they sit playing on an Xbox and showing off the designer clothes earned from what looks like a really easy job.
Meanwhile, honest Albanians watch aghast. Young men in particular told us time and again how motivation-sapping it was to see the kid who never paid attention in school driving a £50k car with a beautiful girl in the passenger seat, while the person who got straight A grades waits tables to earn a pittance.
But a corrupt system where connections are rewarded over ability means few are willing to commit to an honest life at home.
Additional reporting by Eraldo Harlicaj
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