UPDATED: Is Austria set to legalise cannabis use?

A case in the Constitutional Court was set to debate the ban of cannabis for personal use in the country, but the court rejected the request. The Local spoke with Dr Helmut Graupner to understand more.

UPDATED: Is Austria set to legalise cannabis use?
Austria has a strict ban in cannabis, even for private use. But this might change soon (Photo by Add Weed on Unsplash)

UPDATE: Austria’s Constitutional Court rejects request to legalise cannabis for personal use. In a statement, the court said “It is in the legislator’s legal scope to regulate the consumption of addictive substances”, meaning the issue is political, and should be decided in Parliament. Therefore, it cannot rule on it.

Austria has a very complex system when it comes to its drug laws and regulations, but in short: no, cannabis is not legal in the alpine country.

People are not allowed to consume, buy, sell, or grow the plant (growing it at home has some very strange specifications, such as it must never be allowed to bloom).

However, since 2016, a person caught with a small quantity of cannabis could face only small charges, similar to traffic violations.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Still, Austria won’t allow an adult to privately consume the product of the plant.

With legalisation and decriminalisation movements sweeping the globe, this might change.

However, the country’s constitutional court finished its evaluating a private petition by Paul Burger, a 26-year old Viennese – and denied it. He was caught with a half-burned joint at the end of 2020 by two police officers in plain clothes.

“Isn’t it my decision whether I use cannabis?” Burger has stated in his individual application submitted to the Austrian Constitutional Court. He is being counselled by Vienna attorney Dr Helmut Graupner, a known advocate for equal and personal rights.

Previously, he successfully challenged Austria’s same-sex marriage ban.

READ ALSO: Austria’s top court legalises same-sex marriage

Is a ban on cannabis constitutional? 

Austria’s highest court had to decide whether the current Austrian Narcotic Drugs Act, which criminalises the private use of cannabis, is constitutional. The court in July decided that the issue is a political matter and unanimously rejected the treatment of the application.

Dr Graupner states that the use of the narcotic, which happens without harming others, should be protected by the right to privacy and self-determination.

“Currently, in Austria, people are allowed to decide if they want to live or not. They have the right to the private decision on assisted suicide. Still, they cannot decide on such a private and harmless matter as to whether or not to smoke a joint?” Graupner told The Local.

Assisted suicide has been legal in Austria since early 2022 after the Constitutional Court decided that a ban was against a person’s self-determination right.

READ ALSO: Austria votes to make assisted dying legal

What are the current rules regarding cannabis?

Austria has many different rules and penalties related to cannabis. The country allows cultivation for medicinal purposes but is only strictly controlled by its health agency AGES, and, as mentioned, personal use is illegal as well.

“We have the opinion that criminalisation does not work”, Graupner says. He explains that small instances of this “crime” end up consuming a large part of police work.

“Legalising or decriminalising would free police and authorities to deal with real issues since 80 per cent of the cases caught end up being only for personal use. This is a waste of tax money”, he adds.

According to the federal government, cannabis is the most common drug consumed, with a lifetime prevalence of around 30 per cent to 40 per cent among young adults.

Most studies also reveal a maximum consumption rate of four per cent for ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamine and a maximum of two per cent for opioids and new psychoactive substances (NPS), the federal government added.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is abortion legal in Austria?

Growing the plant “for the purpose of addictive substance production” is strictly forbidden and could lead to imprisonment of up to a year and fines. Selling it leads to higher fines and prison time, and even being caught with low amounts can bring problems to the user.

However, some stores sell the cannabis plant – or a hemp plant, provided that they are not allowed to bloom (the flowers concentrate the substance THC, which produces the intoxicating effect of marijuana).

CBD products, also made from the cannabis plant, are not illegal in Austria (Photo by Add Weed on Unsplash)

What about all the “marijuana” stores in the streets?

One thing that may confuse people is the stores selling CBD products all over Austria. They are trendy in the city centre of Vienna.

Despite the green and cannabis-themed illustrations, those are not selling the narcotic but only products made with parts of the plant that contain any or no THC.

Both substances work with receptors in the brain and can affect things like pain, sleep, and memory. The difference is that THC works directly with receptors in the brain and can give the so-called “high” feeling. CBD works with other body elements and is not considered a narcotic.

READ ALSO: ‘Taboo in Austrian society’: How women still face barriers accessing abortion

CBD products, then, are legal in Austria. Like other products that can be considered mood changers, including alcohol (and the legal age for drinking beer in Austria is 16) and cigarettes.

“Alcohol is legal and acceptable, even desirable socially; you can get judged if you don’t drink. While cannabis, which is less dangerous than alcohol, has a consumption ban and you are viewed as a criminal when you consume it”, says Dr Graupner.

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EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

Following the suicide of an Austrian doctor who received threats from Covid-19 anti-vaccination activists, the government has now launched a new campaign to help victims of online abuse.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

The Austrian medical community was left in shock in July when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, a local doctor in Seewalchen am Attersee in Upper Austria, took her own life following months of online abuse.

Kellermayr, 36, had been targeted by anti-vaccination activists and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists for her out-spoken support of vaccines, and the abuse even included death threats. 

Her death prompted candlelight vigils and demonstrations in Vienna and the tragic story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

This led to calls for tighter laws against online bullying and the ability for perpetrators to be prosecuted in other EU countries – particularly as at least two of the people who are believed to have targeted Kellermayr are based in Germany, according to the Guardian.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has even called for the creation of a special public prosecutor’s office to deal with “hate-on-the-net”, but this has been rejected by prosecutors and other political parties, as reported by ORF.

Instead, the Federal Justice Department has launched a new information campaign, website and hotline to help people dealing with online abuse.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

What is in the new campaign?

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said they have launched the campaign to raise awareness about the issue and to inform victims about the support available.

Zadic said: “It is important to me that those affected know that they are not alone in this situation and that the judiciary supports them with free psychological and legal process support.”

“You don’t have to cope alone with the extraordinary burdens that criminal proceedings can entail, for example through confrontation with the perpetrators.”

READ ALSO: Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Part of the support package is the new website Hilfe bei Gewalt (Help with Violence), which details how to access help from the authorities, as well as secure free legal advice and representation from a lawyer.

The website states the service is for victims of bullying and/or hate online, defamation, stalking, terrorism, incitement, sexual violence and robbery.

The service is designed to be anonymous with options to contact the Justice Department by phone or via a chat box. The website also lists contact details for regional support services in all provinces across Austria. 

The free (kostenlos) hotline for Hilfe bei Gewalt is 0800 112 112.

Useful links

Hilfe bei Gewalt

Austrian Federal Justice Department