By Sinisa Jakov Marusic and Sasa Dragojlo
A trio of famous American football players, aided by the EXIT music festival’s director, have met Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to explore growing medicinal marijuana in North Macedonia.
American football stars Lance Briggs, Turk McBride, and Donnie Caldwell, backed by the founder and director of the famed Exit music festival in Serbia, Dusan Kovacevic, have told BIRN that they have already picked a location for growing medicinal marijuana in North Macedonia.
If all goes well, they plan to start construction in autumn, they say, not yet disclosing the amount of their planned investment.
“A state-of-the-art facility will be built using the latest technology available in the United States. Briggs, McBride, and Caldwell have chosen a growing location in North Macedonia. The next step is to buy the land and begin construction, which is planned for the autumn,” Kovacevic, who will be in charge of the investment’s brand development, promotion and local support, told BIRN.
“The American athletes’ role would be to provide investment and state-of-the-art growing technology,” Kovacevic added.
The three US athletes and Kovacevic presented the idea to North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Wednesday in Skopje.
At the meeting, “PM Zaev presented the opportunities for opening factories for medicinal cannabis in North Macedonia, the investment and taxing conditions and the favourable climate,” the government’s press office said.
Medical marijuana production became legal in North Macedonia in 2016 under a surprise decision by the then conservative government Nikola Gruevski, who fled a corruption conviction in 2018 and is currently in Hungary.
Gruevski’s successor as prime minister, the Social Democrat Zoran Zaev, has expanded the project in the hope of boosting exports. Last year, he announced the legalisation of recreational marijuana, intended primarily to boost local hospitality sector.
Today, 64 companies hold licenses to grow marijuana in the country, although some investigations as well as security experts suggest that some of it might end up on the region’s black market.
Kovacevic, who is famed for founding and managing one of the biggest open-air music festivals in Europe, the Exit festival that takes place in Serbia’s Novi Sad, said he had pitched the idea for investing in North Macedonia to the US athletes.
“We met through mutual friends; I heard that they have a developed business growing medical cannabis and are planning to invest in South Africa. I conveyed to them the advantages of making North Macedonia a country of particular interest in this business and invited them to this year’s EXIT. After that, we scheduled a meeting with PM Zoran Zaev,” Kovacevic explained.
While North Macedonia is not yet a significant player on the international marijuana products market, its interest is understandable. Worldwide sales of medicinal marijuana in 2020 exceeded 7,7 billion euros, and this figure is expected to reach 23 billion euros by 2026.
At the side-lines of the meeting on Wednesday, Kovacevic said he had also tossed the possibility of organising a festival from the EXIT family in North Macedonia.