Recreational: illegal (personal use is decriminalized)
The situation with weed in Austria is complex due to weed laws being a legal gray area. Officially, weed for recreational use is illegal, however some 30% – 40% of young people in Austria aged 15 to 24 have used cannabis, and herbal cannabis is the most commonly seized drug in the country, followed by hash.
The use of cannabis hasn’t been listed on the criminal statute since 2016, effectively decriminalizing weed for personal use. However, possession still carries a fine or up to six months in jail, and intent to sell (or possession of large amounts) carries much harsher penalties.
Medical use was legalized in 2008, but as in other European countries, the products available on prescription are limited. Cannabis bud is still not available for medical consumption.
Growing weed is another legal gray area. Officially it is legal to grow the cannabis plant, as long as the plants contain less than 0.3% THC. In practical terms, this means it is legal up to flowering.
CBD oil is legal and widely available, but it is illegal to sell products such as food which contains CBD oil.
Austria’s weed laws
Officially, marijuana is not legal in Austria, other than by prescription. Consequently, possession of up to 20 grams of THC or 40 grams of THCA can be punishable by a fine or up to six months imprisonment. Amounts over the personal use threshold can carry a sentence of up to a year, or in the case of aggravated circumstances, up to three years.
In practice personal use has been decriminalized, as Austria differentiates between drug traffickers and users who may have addiction or other health problems. Consequently, the police often pass defendants caught with small amounts for personal use directly along to the health services for treatment. Others may be handed suspended sentences for first offenses. And in many cases, the police will simply turn a blind eye if the user is discrete.
This means that the harsher penalties are handed out to those who traffick marijuana and other drugs. Those caught with large quantities, defined as 15 or more times the threshold amount, are liable to be handed a two to three year sentence, depending on the type of drug, while those who move cannabis across the border can be sentenced to up to five years jail time. In the case of those involved in the drug trade in a gang setting, sentences can go as high as life in jail.
Marijuana for medical use in Austria
Patients with the following conditions can obtain medical cannabis products by prescription:
- nervous system disorders
However, currently only three products are on offer:
Cannabis flower buds are not available for medical purposes.
Of the three, Dronabinol is most often prescribed as it is the cheapest, although in fact all three products are expensive. Patients can claim the cost back from their medical insurance company.
In 2008, Austria legalized the production of cannabis for medical and research purposes, but only by growers given authorization from the Ministry of Health; this means that domestic growth for medical use is not allowed.
Cultivation is legal – within certain parameters
In a measure of how complex the situation is for weed in Austria, the 2008 law allowing cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes also gave Austrians the right to grow cannabis at home, as long as it was not for the purpose of harvesting THC. It stipulated that the plants must contain no more than 0.3% THC, which in practice meant the plants could be grown up to the point of flowering.
Consequently, around 300,000 seedlings are sold in the country every month, marketed by garden centers as being good for improving air quality, or just as a decorative plant. The ruling People’s Party has indicated that it intends to outlaw the sale of hemp plants and seeds, but their coalition partners, the Green party, take a more favorable stance, so the ban is unlikely to be seen within this term.
The Greens, who want to see a tightly controlled retail system which allows for the purchase of small quantities of weed, are not alone within the Austrian political landscape in favoring reform of Austria’s weed laws. The Social Democrat Party has spoken up in favor of legalizing cannabis use, and even ran a campaign to that effect.
What do Austrians think of marijuana use?
As in many Western nations, marijuana use is more readily accepted among urban dwellers and younger members of society, with a significant minority of young people, around 30%-40%, admitting to using cannabis.
On the whole, medical marijuana is seen as more acceptable than recreational use. One poll, conducted in 2017, found that 78% of respondents agreed with the statement: “Medical cannabis should only be available by prescription in pharmacies,” while just 29% agreed that “Cannabis should generally be available to everyone aged 21 and over.”
The same poll found that even for medical use, the majority of Austrians wanted cannabis to be closely regulated. Just 26% agreed that “everyone should have the right to grow cannabis for medical purposes,” against 53% who disagreed, while 20% were unsure. And even fewer, 21%, agreed that “medicinal cannabis should be available without a prescription from drug stores or hemp shops,” against 59% who disagreed.
In short, while the Austrian authorities are unlikely to tighten restrictions on use, there seems to be little popular support for more relaxed rules either.