By Lucas De Vries

June 2, 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes


Austria is still not a state that has completely decriminalized the cultivation, possession, sale, and consumption of cannabis. However, the legal framework for these issues seems to be rather unclear. Indeed, since 2008, the government has made the cultivation of cannabis legal, even in a personal capacity, as long as it is not aimed at extracting THC (a substance that acts on the psyche of the consumer). On the other hand, possession of cannabis is not legal. How can these legal specificities be understood?

While 2008 seems to have been a turning point in cannabis legislation, Austria did not stop there. Indeed, cannabis consumption is decriminalized in 2016. Possession, for its part, is penalized as soon as it exceeds the threshold of 20 grams of THC. In that case, the penalty can range from a simple fine to imprisonment depending on the quantity. The sale is also limited to the same threshold.

These measures can be seen as rather complex and paradoxical. Yet they seem clear and well-integrated by the Austrian people.

Explanations by a Viennese Headshop employee

A seller in a Headshop gives explanations on Austrian legislation. According to him, the penal threshold of possession and sale serves to distinguish between consumers who are dependent or medically necessary and criminal traffickers or vendors with a license to sell.

Concerning the personal home cultivation of cannabis, it is legal, as long as it is not intended to extract THC. The plants must then contain less than 0.3 % THC, i.e. they may not be cultivated after flowering.

In addition to the plants, the seller offered dried flowers ready to eat. However, consumption seemed to be prohibited unless there was a medical reason. He therefore also explained this point. The consumer is safe as long as there is no proof of sale. On the other hand, the sharing of a joint can be considered as a distribution. It is then punishable by a prison sentence of between 6 months and 3 years.

Controls carried out by the authorities

It is estimated that 250,000 cannabis plants are sold annually in Austria. Questioned by this figure allowing personal cultivation at home, I continue to question the seller about the controls. These are carried out randomly or based on alerts from neighbors who smell a potentially disturbing odor.

However, he adds that, even if you have a hundred or so feet in your home, as long as it is not proven that you intend to smoke them or sell them, you will not be worried. The simple fact of wanting to create a scent in your home, or the beauty of the plant, maybe reason enough.

Headshop checks are recurrent depending on the seller. The authorities, aware of the specificity of the legal status and the abuses that this can bring, regularly come to control these shops. They particularly control their stocks, which must be under the legal thresholds, as well as the level of the flowering of the plants sold.

Legitimation of this legislation

The important thing to remember is that no, Vienna is not the new Amsterdam. In fact, the legal vagueness is becoming clearer around the legal quantity. This quantity is too small for the psychotropic effects to make their appearance. On the other hand, it is just enough to have a good night’s sleep and relax, without the risk of paranoia or other effects of cannabis.

Austria appears to be on the path to legalizing cannabis but at a cautious pace. According to a taxi driver who has been living in Vienna for 10 years, Austria wants to comply with European standards and protect the health of its citizens. According to the Hanf Institute, on 13 January 2020, a prostate cancer patient’s healing process was accelerated after the application of cannabis oil.

According to the government, this legal framework, however messy it may seem, will in the long term stabilize consumption and above all put an end to all trafficking. In the long term, the government will be able to control the quality of marijuana in its territory.

Nevertheless, a coalition of right-wing parties in Austria wanted to make cannabis seeds and plants illegal in 2019. The leader of one of the parties, Sebastian Kurz, was dismissed before the text was ratified. The text then remained in abeyance

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Cannabis in Austria: confusing legal status
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Cannabis in Austria: confusing legal status
Austria is still not a state that has completely decriminalized the cultivation, possession, sale, and consumption of cannabis. However, the legal framework for these issues seems to be rather unclear.
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