Why Austria is unlikely to follow its neighbours in legalising cannabis

While its neighbours Germany and the Czech Republic continue to move closer towards legalising recreational cannabis, Austria appears to be lagging behind. Even its more conservative neighbour, Switzerland, has been trialling sales of recreational cannabis in pharmacies: Zurich launched its first supply of cannabis products as part of its pilot project for the sale of recreational cannabis on 23rd August this year.

Meanwhile, in Austria, the general secretary of the governing People’s Party (ÖVP), Christian Stocker, has publicly stated that the party is firmly against the idea of the country following Germany’s example in legalising recreational cannabis.

“We firmly reject the legalisation of cannabis in Austria,” Stocker told the country’s digital media outlet APA-OTS earlier this year. “A normalisation of cannabis use would only facilitate entry into drug abuse.”

Vienna-based narcotic substances lawyer Arthur Machac, who recently shared his expertise about the Austrian Narcotic Substances Act at the Cultiva Hemp Expo, believes the situation is unlikely to change. He told CannIntelligence: “It’s not important what the Germans do – this is national law. And there’s no European constitution for smoking cannabis.”

Machac believes the current political situation in Austria makes the prospect of change even more unlikely. Elections are coming up in the autumn of 2024, and he – along with the polls – is predicting a victory for right-wing party the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), which is likely to maintain the prohibition on the sale of recreational cannabis.

The FPO has been gaining ground in the polls, with its share of the vote rising from 20% to 30% over the past year. There’s still a year to go until the election, so the political climate could change, obviously, but the current government would be unlikely to set any changes in motion so closely to the next election – even if reform was a priority, which Machac says it isn’t.


‘A Kafkaesque nightmare’


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    Machac bemoaned the “labyrinthine, sloppy and illogical nature” of Austrian cannabis law, which he claims is in dire need of reform but “nobody is doing anything about it”.

    He said the status of medical cannabis in Austria, in particular, was “very sad”.

    He’s not alone in this view. Medical cannabis lobbyists such as Klaus Hübner, finance officer for independent non-profit organisation Arge Canna, have described Austria’s almost non-existent regime for the use of cannabinoids in medication as “a Kafkaesque nightmare”.

    Hübner has reported that over-officious bureaucracy places impediments in the way of the small number of patients able to access cannabinoid medications in the country, for what he claims is no discernible reason.

    Arge Canna has been making official inquiries to the Austrian administration, mainly to the Ministry of Health, since 2014 to no avail. “We’re keeping the pressure up but there’s no movement, they’re constantly working against us,” said Hübner.

    He claims the ministry has acknowledged in writing that the cannabis laws need to be reformed because they contradict international agreements. “An adaptation of the Austrian provisions that is necessary in this regard…is therefore currently being examined,” the ministry told Arge Canna in 2018. No action has been taken since.

    “Nobody is doing anything, and nobody cares,” said Machac. “It’s just not a priority here.”

     Lorraine Mullaney CannIntelligence staff

    Photo: Ante Hamersmit

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    Lorraine Mullaney

    Senior writer
    Lorraine is responsible for writing news analysis and assisting with copy-editing. Lorraine is a copywriter and editor who has written and edited words for a wide range of audiences, from local community newspapers to consumer magazines and trade websites.