A Look at Austria’s Cannabis Regulation: It’s complicated

A Look at Austria’s Cannabis Regulation: It’s complicated

When it comes to cannabis regulation, every country does it a little differently.

CannaTech, the international platform that connects industry leaders and influencers from all over the world, is pleased to bring you the first in our CannaTech Global Round Up Series. This conversation will unfold in earnest as we discuss the challenges and the progress made in European Cannabis Regulation in our “New Frontiers -Regulatory Mini Forum”  and in several other sessions presented this October on our CannaTech UK stage.  What follows is a peek into Austria’s regulatory framework regarding cannabis and cannabis medicine.

Austria has one of the most unique, if not downright peculiar, positions on the the legality of cannabis.

The short version: It’s complicated.

For the longer version…read on.

Austria is a small, German speaking country in the Northern Alps, and they enjoy relatively liberal drug laws in regards to private citizen use. Generally, little to no focus is put on personal use, instead, the law focuses almost exclusively on sale, production and trafficking. They have used this approach for decades, although 2008 ushered in (slightly) new legislation.  

Basically, it is legal to grow cannabis plants at home and it is not a criminal offence to smoke cannabis in public. As one Austrian performance artist said in a recent video interview with Merry Jane, “Vienna is very laid back about smoking [cannabis]. Nobody cares in Austria if you smoke weed.”

However, buying, selling, gifting or possessing cannabis is a criminal offence, creating a very strange dichotomy in Austrian culture and practice.

Through a legal loophole approved in 2008, growing cannabis became legally “privileged” in Austria, meaning that it is less severely prosecuted than “producing” cannabis. With this in mind, Alexander Kristen founded  Flowery Field, a flower shop that specializes in hemp, located just outside of Vienna. They are the largest hemp wholesalers in Austria and employ 40 people on staff and produce 250,000 hemp seedlings every week.

The law states that the sale of cannabis plants is legal in the vegetative phase, provided that it is not used “for other purposes”. As long as a hemp plant is not brought to bloom, it is legal to grow and possess hemp. It was on this basis that Kristen founded his company twelve years ago.

So when exactly does hemp cross the threshold from legal and decorative to illegal and criminal? Simple: When the buds are separated from the plant. Oh, and one more thing, production and cultivation are limited to less than 10% THC per 200 grams of cannabis.

Excess of this is considered a major crime, prosecutable by law.

“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,” said Toni Straka of the Hemp Institute in Austria. He estimates that 300,000 seedlings are sold in Austria each month.

Despite the 2008 law that permitted the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes, Austria has yet to make government-grown and sanctioned cannabis available to its medical cannabis patients. The import and sale of Dronabinol and Sativex are permitted with a special license.

Many forecast that as their German neighbours make strides in their approach to cannabis medicine, Austria may very well follow suit.

To learn more about cannabis policy and innovation across Europe and beyond, join us live at CannaTech in London.

Join us at CannaTech UK

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