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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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COST OF LIVING

Cost of living: Austria’s postal service announces prices increases

Prices in Austria continue to rise and, this time, mailing letters and parcels will become more expensive. Here is what you need to know.

Cost of living: Austria's postal service announces prices increases

Austria’s postal service Post said business is “difficult” due to “inflation and uncertainty in the energy market”, stating that the package volume has decreased while their operation costs went up.

The state company’s answer to the challenging scenario is to increase parcel prices, and the changes will be valid starting in October.

Starting on October 1st, prices for posting S letters will go up from €0.85 to €1, M letters from €1.35 to €1.40, S packages from €2.75 to €3 and M packages from €4.30 to €4.50.

READ ALSO: Cost of living: Why are petrol prices in Austria still so high?

“The first six months of 2022 posed major challenges for companies, especially in Europe”, Post said, stating that the “COVID-19 pandemic, its countermeasures and the resulting delays in the global value chain were the starting point for what is now a worldwide inflationary trend.”

“The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the price increases for important raw materials and energy sources. These conditions will continue in the second half of the year. There is also a risk that the energy market will remain difficult to predict and gas supplies in parts of Europe will not be secure.”

Rising inflation and staff shortages

Inflation has been rising in Austria, reaching 9.2% in July, with essential items becoming increasingly more expensive.

READ ALSO: Inflation at 9.2% in July: How to beat rising prices in Austria

So far, the wave of inflation has affected chiefly energy and food prices but has now also arrived in the gastronomy sector, with increasing costs in bars and restaurants across the country.

However, as fuel and energy prices soar, people in Austria will see increases in all sectors, including postage services.

Another major challenge in the Austrian economy is labour shortage – and Post is now having difficulty finding new employees, especially drivers and workers for its distribution centres.

READ ALSO: Five of the biggest challenges facing Austria right now

“We have virtually full employment”, Post CEO Georg Pölzl told the daily Der Standard. He said that the company could immediately hire 1,000 people – if they were able to find the workers.

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