Cannabis – The Situation in Austria

A short overview:

Political situation:

The attitude towards cannabis has changed dramatically since September 2013.

All 6 parties in parliament have shifted their stance on a decriminalization of medical cannabis and cannabis as a soft drug to varying degrees since the legalization in Colorado.

The discussion has not advanced much and still remains in its early stages. There are no models for decriminalization and regulation on the table.

The Hemp Institute prioritizes the decriminalization of medical cannabis use that will allow the collection of health related cannabis data, which in turn will lead to an improved perception of the hemp plant and its multifold benefits.

Cannabis may become a decisive factor in the next Austrian elections, scheduled for 2018, as this is a political issue that could yield supporting parties significant gains in votes.

Public opinion:

Regional online polls show a solid majority for the decriminalization of MMJ with results varying between 67% and up to 97%.

Legal situation:

  • Hemp production is allowed for industrial and medical purposes. Hemp products can be purchased legally, except for psychoactive cannabis containing THC. Production of cannabis that contains THC is only legal for a state-owned entity.
  • Consumption of cannabis is technically non-punishable, but possession, purchases and passing it on to others – even when only sharing a joint – are illegal. Austrian law makes a clear distinction between consumption related offenses and criminal dealing.
  • A reform of Austrian drug laws that came into effect on January 1, 2016, now requires all persons caught with cannabis to undergo a medical evaluation to avoid criminal charges. Cannabis remains listed in the drug law next to toxic substances like cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine.
  • Another hasty reform in mid 2016 made dealing in public an especially severe felony. This was enacted to counter a sudden rise of public dealing in crowded places in Austria’s bigger towns.
  • From 30,000 recorded drug offenses in 2014 – a rise of seven percent compared to 2013 – 25,000 involved only consumption cases of cannabis and only a few hundred persons were indicted for cannabis dealing.

Medical Use:

  • While production of Cannabis for medical uses is theoretically allowed, the sale of the natural remedy itself is prohibited under Austrian drug laws.
  • Austria allows the sale of synthetical Cannabis pharmaceuticals such as Dronabinol (containing THC) and Sativex (containing THC & Cannabidiol [CBD]) with a prescription from a licensed physician.
  • A change in the Suchtgiftverordnung that came into effect on January 1, 2016,  indicates a possible shift towards selling cannabis in pharmacies.
  • While it is illegal to grow cannabis with the intent to produce the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, Austrians can purchase cannabis seeds and seedlings legally. According to law, only THC is prohibited, but none of the other hundreds of Cannabinoids.

Resource/Industrial Uses:

  • Production of industrial hemp for the production of fibers, hempseed oil and all other non-psychoactive parts of the hemp plant was allowed in 1995 after a forced hiatus since 1958.
  • Industrial hemp must not contain more than 0.3% THC after flowering.
  • One region in Northern Austria, Hanfthal (Hemp Valley) has revived an 800 years old tradition of hemp production.
  • Domestic fiber hemp production supplies Austrian hemp building materials producers with the commodity and hemp seed oil producing plants are grown too. Hemp food items like hemp seed oil etc. are produced and sold in Austria.
  • Austria is home to 2 hemp insulation mats producers which are an environmentally friendy alternative to conventional methods like styrofoam or mineral wool insulation products. Growing production has resulted in dramatic cost improvements that make hemp products price competitive while delivering significantly better thermal and acoustic proofing.

Prevalence:

  • According to official government data, more than 20% or 1.6 million Austrians have used cannabis in their lifetime and 12.5% are estimated to smoke it regularly/occasionally.
  • Of these, roughly one half consumes cannabis regularly (defined as more than 2 smokes/vapes/edibles per week) and the other half occasionally.
  • Cannabis smoking is especially prevalent in young users. Government data estimate that 40% of youth between 15 and 25 years consume cannabis. Official data says that cannabis consumption starts among adolescents at 15 years of age on average.