“We're increasingly getting complaints from residents, that drug dealing is becoming a problem again,” police spokesman Roman Hahslinger confirmed.
But police task force commander Harald Poschinger said that the situation is still under control. However, an amendment to the Criminal Code at the beginning of this year made it more difficult for police officers to arrest and charge dealers, which is why the problem became worse. As a response to this the Narcotic Drugs Act was amended on June 1st and since then dealers who are caught in a public space can now be sentenced to up to two years in prison.
As a result of the new drugs law, 566 people have been arrested for “dealing drugs in a public space” since the beginning of June. Hahslinger said that the majority of those arrested (190) are from Nigeria, 107 from Algeria and 63 are Austrian citizens.
Poschinger said that police are working hard to make sure that people are not hassled by drug dealers at certain U-Bahn stations. A standby unit is deployed every day with around 100 uniformed officers at known hotspots on the U6 underground line, as well as the Praterstern train station. “We will never be able to completely stop drug dealers from operating,” Poschinger said, but he added that a higher police presence ensures that the dealers to not bother members of the public.
In addition to cannabis, cocaine and heroin are also being sold at stations along the U6 underground line. "These substances are often dangerous, they are only around three percent pure, and the rest is - if you're lucky - milk sugar,” Poschinger warned. Since June 1st officers have seized 33.5 kilograms of marijuana and one kilogram of cannabis. In addition, they found one kilogram of cocaine, half a kilo of heroin and 1,000 tablets, including ecstasy. Dealers were carrying the drugs themselves, or had them hidden around the target areas.
This year, Vienna authorities have been focussing on "therapy instead of punishment" for those who buy drugs. The purchase or possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use no longer automatically leads to a criminal conviction, but rather means a referral to a health authority. "People who consume drugs are not evil. We try to talk to them and we've learnt a lot - especially about which drugs are being sold where,” Poschinger said.
A columnist writing in the Kronen Zeitung is critical of the fact that drug addicts can now get a free breakfast “between 9am and 4pm” at a centre on Vienna's Nussdorfer Straße, saying that taxpayers are not happy to foot the bill.