Cannabis in Austria – Laws, Use, and History
Austria has complex laws when it comes to cannabis. Sale and supply are punished harshly, but personal use is decriminalised, and it’s permissible to grow small numbers of cannabis plants. However, under the current right-wing government, this could be set to change. Medicinal cannabis is available, but it’s extremely hard to obtain.
- CBD Products
- not clear
- Recreational cannabis
- Medicinal cannabis
- Legal since 2008
Cannabis laws in Austria
Can you possess and use cannabis in Austria?
Austrian cannabis laws are dictated by the Suchtmittelgesetz (Narcotic Substances Act), which was passed in 1998 after the country joined the EU.
Since 2016, use of cannabis hasn’t been listed as a criminal offence; which effectively decriminalises it. However, possession of any drugs can be punished with up to six months in prison or a fine; providing the amount of cannabis is below the threshold. The threshold is defined by a Ministry of Health decree, and is currently set at 20 grams of THC (pure substance) or 40 grams of THCA. The maximum sentence for possession of amounts that exceed ‘personal use’ is one-year imprisonment.
There are also a range of alternatives in place, such as a suspended sentence, or treatment. This was streamlined in 2015, with police sending cannabis users straight to the health authorities, rather than prosecuting them.
In cases where there are aggravating circumstances (for example, if an offender possesses a larger amount and it’s believed they intended to sell it, or if a minor was involved), the prison sentence is extended to a maximum of three years.
The country’s approach is to make a distinction between the criminals trafficking the drugs, and those using the drugs, who may have health or addiction problems. Special provisions are also in place for cannabis and ‘magic’ mushrooms.
Can you sell cannabis in Austria?
The law regards the sale and supply of cannabis as a much more serious offence. If the individual is caught trafficking large quantities (defined as 15 times the threshold quantity), they are liable to receive:
- A two to three-year prison sentence for possession (depending on the type of drug)
- Five years’ imprisonment for import
- One to 10 years, or 10 to 20 years / life depending on other circumstances, such as operating as part of a gang, having previous convictions, trafficking large amounts of cannabis etc.
Large or ‘serious’ quantities are defined as anything over 20 grams of THC.
Can you grow cannabis in Austria?
In 2008, the Narcotic Substances Act was amended, to better fit with EU legislation. The amended version permitted the cultivation of cannabis in order to extract ‘active substances’ to use in medicinal preparations.
The new law also gave individuals the right to grow cannabis plants at home; providing they were not grown in order to extract THC. The plants also had to contain less than 0.3% THC. In realistic terms, this meant that people could grow the plants up to the point of flowering, as prior to this point, the levels of THC were likely to be below the limit.
Toni Straka, of the Hemp Institute, commented: “We have a strange legal situation. Consumption of a (cannabis) joint is forbidden, but the selling of the hemp plant as a room air quality improver or a decorative plant is allowed.” He estimated that around 300,000 seedlings are sold in the country every month.
Cannabis is widely grown in the country as a result of this law. Some large-scale growers, when brought before the court, have successfully argued that their plants had yet to flower, and managed to avoid a prison sentence. In fact, the law doesn’t actually define the emergence of flowers and seed heads as evidence of intent to use for drug-manufacture or sale.
According to the Vienna “Verein Hanfmuseum” (Hemp Museum Association), the Ministry of the Interior had stated in 2015 that “Only the harvesting of plants that are not permitted for commercial purposes with clearly formed flowers and seed heads represents production of an addictive substance under the law.”
However, this situation may be set to change soon. At the end of 2017, the newly elected People’s Party announced that they planned to ban the sale of “hemp plants and hemp seeds”. This would not only impact those who grow it for personal use, but also farmers and grow-shop owners.
Is CBD legal in Austria?
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the current CBD laws in Austria. Up until 2018, CBD was legal to purchase and sell in Austria, providing that the levels of THC were below 0.3%. However, the current government has recently revised this; just as most other European countries have fully legalised it. It’s now illegal to use in edible products, but is still permitted to be sold as an ‘aromatherapy product’.
For example, in 2018, Aida (a pastry shop) started selling cakes with CBD in them. However, they were banned from doing so, as the government have stated that the inclusion of CBD in foods or cosmetics is prohibited.
At the time of writing, Kurz has lost the confidence vote, and as such, the position of Chancellor has been taken over by Brigitte Bierlein. Sensi Seeds will update this information as soon as new information becomes available.
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Austria?
At present, cannabis seeds can be legally purchased and sold in Austria, and may be sent through the post.
Medicinal cannabis in Austria
In 2008, Austria passed a bill permitting cannabis cultivation for medicinal and research purposes. The bill stated that all cannabis would be grown under the control of the Health Ministry, and that domestic cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes would still be illegal.
The country permits the supply of Dronabinol, Sativex and Nabilone to patients with a prescription from a registered medical practitioner. Dronabinol is the most commonly prescribed, as it’s cheaper than the other two; though it is still costly. Health insurance usually covers cannabis-products if the patient suffers from MS, AIDS, cancer, or diseases of the nervous system.
However, some experts believe that the current medicinal programme isn’t doing enough for Austria’s patients. Peter Kolba, a candidate for the Peter Pilz party, commented recently:
“The current possibilities are not sufficient (…) You have to find a doctor who is familiar with cannabis in medicine. (…) The doctor must be ready to issue a narcotic drug prescription. The costs of Dronabinol are partly unworkable (….) The health insurance companies accept these costs very hesitantly and only with the presence of clinical studies.”
Industrial hemp in Austria
Industrial hemp production was reintroduced in 1995, after having been virtually non-existent for 37 years. It can be legally grown in the country, providing it contains no more than 0.3% THC.
The hemp industry is thriving in many parts of the country. For example, in Hanfthal (which translates as ‘Hemp Valley’), around 70 hectares of hemp are grown, and there is a museum and information centre, which details the 900-year hemp growing traditions of the area.
Austria not only produces hemp for textiles, building materials, and oilseed crops; it also contributes to hemp technology. Two examples of this are:
- The Hempstone-Zelfo process. Ground hemp fibres are combined with water to produce a dense composite plastic that can be highly polished.
- Hempstone. This is used to produce furniture, musical instruments, and other items.
Politics and cannabis
Until 2019, Austria’s government was a coalition, led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Both parties in the coalition (the People’s Party and the Freedom Party of Austria) are known for their right-wing views. Thus far, they have made CBD in edibles illegal and declared their intentions to make cannabis plants and seeds illegal too. This had considerable consequences; not just for personal users, but for farmers and grow-shops across the country as well.
However, at the time of writing, Sebastian Kurz was removed from his post, and Brigitte Bierlein became the interim Chancellor. As such, the future of the country’s cannabis laws are now uncertain.
One thing is for sure – Kurz’s views aren’t shared with everyone. The Social Democratic Party have spoken out in favour of decriminalising cannabis in the past, and even spearheaded a campaign to legalise it entirely. The Greens are also in favour of legalisation, and are pushing for a tightly-controlled small-scale retail system; enabling people to purchase small quantities of cannabis.
Good to know
If you are travelling to Austria (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:
- According to government data, 20% of Austrians have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime. Of these, 12.5% use it regularly or occasionally.
- The average age that Austrians start using or trying cannabis is 15 years old.
- Herbal cannabis is the most commonly seized drug in Austria, followed by cannabis resin (hash).
Up until recently, Austria’s cannabis laws have been fairly progressive. However, the new government seeks to ban cultivation. Read on for more.
The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Austria
Austria is home to somewhat relaxed but complicated cannabis laws. The local authorities allow you to buy seeds and seedlings, but cannabis sale and supply are punished harshly in Austria.
As a tourist, you might be wondering if you’re allowed to smoke a recreational spliff while waiting for your Wiener Schnitzel to be ready. So, is cannabis legal in Austria?
Read on to find out.
The Austrian approach to drug use
Austria adopted its current Addiction Prevention Strategy in 2016, and, together with the Narcotic Substances Act, it sets out the goals, frameworks and principles behind the country’s drug policy. Austria views addiction as a disease, not a crime. As a result, Austrian drug laws support the principle of treatment over punishment, and lawbreakers are encouraged to seek help instead of going to prison.
Austrian drug laws distinguish between two types of offenders — criminal offenders who are trafficking the drugs for profit and endanger public safety and people with drug-related health problems. The law lays out several criteria that differentiate between the two, the most relevant being the type and quantity of drugs involved. The law grants cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms special provisions.
Since Austrian lawmakers consider addiction a disease, not a crime, drug use is not considered an offence. The penalty for drug possession for personal use varies according to the type and quantity of drugs, but it usually consists of a fine or a short prison sentence of up to six months. The law defines quantity thresholds for every type of drug, making a clear distinction between personal possession and possession with intent to supply.
The framework adopted in 2016 offers drug users alternatives to punishment. The police sometimes send offenders directly to health authorities, and therapy can be an alternative to imprisonment even for drug users who committed serious offences but are willing to undergo addiction treatment.
Recreational cannabis laws in Austria
Recreational cannabis is not legal in Austria, but cannabis has been more or less decriminalised for personal use. The Austrian authorities no longer prosecute the possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use. And here’s the thing, anything below 20 grams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is considered a small quantity of cannabis.
But there’s more to the Austrian cannabis laws — instead of prosecuting offenders, the police sends a report to the district administrative authority, which serves as a health authority.
The health authority examines the case and recommends certain therapeutic measures that the offender should follow. Each of these cases also reaches the prosecutor’s office, but the prosecutor does not open an investigation if the offender cooperates with the health authority.
So, personal use of cannabis is effectively decriminalised, but you could still be sanctioned if you don’t respect the health authority’s recommendations.
Cannabis growing is sort of legal in Austria
Back in 2008, Austria updated its Narcotic Substances Act to make it fit better with EU legislation. The updated version allows Austrians to grow cannabis in order to extract its active substances for medicinal preparations. The Act also allows Austrians to grow cannabis at home as long as their plants contain less than 0.3 percent THC.
Simply put, the 2008 Act allows Austrian citizens to grow most cannabis plants until they flower, which is when their THC content increases dramatically. It’s technically possible to grow as many cannabis plants as you want, as long as they don’t flower and you can prove you have no intention of producing psychoactive substances from them.
This technicality allows growers to sell seeds and seedlings online and in brick and mortar shops. Some people estimate that Austrian cannabis growers sell about 300,000 seedlings each month.
But this loophole in the Austrian cannabis law was also used by large scale cannabis growers as a ‘get out of jail free card’ on several occasions. Some of them managed to argue that, since their crops had yet to flower, they weren’t growing it with the intent to sell it on the black market. However, others made the same argument and faced criminal charges because Austrian law treats cannabis sale and supply harshly.
Cannabis sale and supply charges attract harsh prison sentences
Austrian law sees cannabis trafficking as a serious offence. If an individual is caught trafficking large quantities of cannabis, which, by law, is defined as being anything over 15 times the legal threshold, there are serious consequences to face:
- A cannabis possession charge, which can result in a prison sentence of up to three years.
- A cannabis import sentence, which can result in a prison sentence of up to five years.
- A drug trafficking charge, which can result in a prison sentence of one to 10 years, 10 to 20 years, or 10 to life, depending on the aggravating circumstances. Being part of a gang, having previous drug convictions, endangering the lives of others (especially minors) and trafficking large quantities of cannabis are considered serious aggravating circumstances by Austrian law.
Is medical marijuana legal in Austria?
The 2008 Narcotic Substances Act made cultivating cannabis for medical and scientific purposes legal. Medical marijuana cultivation is controlled by the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security (AGES). The AGES is the only entity allowed to grow medical cannabis in Austria, and it can pass its crops to authorised customers — usually pharmaceutical companies.
But here’s the thing, even though there is an entity allowed to grow cannabis, Austrian doctors can only prescribe synthetic cannabis medicines, such as Dronabinol, Nabilone and Sativex. They usually prescribe cannabis for chronic pain, severe depression that doesn’t respond to antidepressants, multiple sclerosis, cancer, side effects of chemotherapy, epilepsy, glaucoma and Tourette syndrome.
There are only a few doctors who prescribe cannabis medication, and they usually prescribe Dronabinol because it’s the cheapest option. And, even then, the costs of getting cannabis medicine in Austria are steep.
For example, 250 mg of Dorabinol cost around 150 euros in Austria, while 200 mg of THC-rich medical cannabis flowers cost about 30 euros in neighbouring Germany. Prescribed cannabis treatments can be covered by health insurance companies, but that’s not always the case.
Austrian advocacy groups demand better access to cannabis treatments for patients, but that’s not likely to happen in the near future. The state authorities want more scientific proof before allowing patients to use cannabis flower as treatment.
Now, that might seem like a sound approach, but the authorities are not making any efforts to support cannabis research. In fact, cannabis research is basically nonexistent in Austria.
Scientists are not allowed to conduct human cannabis studies in the country; they can only carry out studies on mice and isolated cells. Further, the authorities do not consider those types of studies relevant to this debate, so things reached a stalemate for the moment.
Is CBD legal in Austria?
Cannabidiol (CBD) was legal in Austria until 2018, if the product contained less than 0.3 percent THC. However, a 2019 decree classified CBD as a novel food in line with EU regulations and banned foods and cosmetics containing CBD from the market.
But the decree’s expression created a legal loophole, and cannabis entrepreneurs are using it as best they can. Since they can’t sell products that are classified as foods or cosmetics, most of them started selling ‘aromatherapy’ products containing CBD. As a result, you can still find CBD products in Austria.
However, one of the problems with this type of legal loophole is that it basically eliminates the possibility of product control. Since the products are not supposed to be ingested or applied to the skin, they are not tested by the AGES.
As a result, the Austrian CBD market is now open to opportunists who want to line their pockets without spending too much money. And one of the easiest ways to do that is claiming that you’re selling CBD-infused aromatherapy products when you’re really selling perfumed water with fancy labels.
You’re not breaking the law when you do this because you’re selling aromatherapy products, and the clients have a difficult time proving you’re tricking people. This is how scammers win, and consumers suffer.
The future of cannabis in Austria
Austria’s current drug laws focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment, so they aim to help drug users, which is a healthy, positive attitude toward drug use and misuse. The Austrian authorities are currently reluctant to approve medical marijuana flower as a treatment option, so they’re surely not planning to legalise recreational cannabis any time soon.
But the authorities might change their minds if Germany expands its medical cannabis program. This might provide Austrian lawmakers with the proof they need to support more robust cannabis legislation, and it might raise the issue of cannabis legalisation in Austria.
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Victor is a staff writer at Strain Insider and a digital marketer. He writes about cannabis, health & wellness, and marketing topics. When he’s not writing, Victor usually wastes time online looking for the perfect gif.
Austria is home to somewhat relaxed but complicated cannabis laws. But is marijuana legal in Austria? What are the specifics of the Austrian law? Read on.