The new right-wing government of Austria plans to ban the “sale of hemp plants and hemp seeds.” In Austria’s narcotic drug law, no distinction is made between cannabis and hemp. Hemp containing up to 0.3 percent THC is legal and everything else is treated as an addictive substance that’s illegal.
In the recently published government program, a small, inconspicuous announcement on page 44 is one of many measures of a planned criminal law reform. Such a move of the governing parties ÖVP (Austria people’s Party/conservative) and FPÖ (Right Wing Liberals/populistic) would cripple the country’s cannabis industry to its foundation.
In Austria, the plants have been sold for decades for the purpose of “aromatherapy and decoration,” but owners are not permitted to let their plants bloom. However, it’s no secret that most of the thousands upon thousands of clones sold are destined for grow-boxes or -tents, providing their owners with delicious smokable buds a few weeks later. In view of an EU single market and open borders, many cannabis farmers from the eight neighboring countries appreciate the controlled quality and large selection of strains in Austria.
The pioneers of the first Viennese grower’s shop, “Was Denn?” discovered the loophole over 20 years ago and immediately started selling cannabis cuttings. Initially, the Austrian police did not accept any legal cannabis plants and raided such shops. At the turn of the millennium, new shops started opening in Vienna, prompting further investigation and closure by the authorities.
But some of the shops filed complaints on the basis of the narcotic act, winning some of their cases. Since 2006, in liberal Vienna and the surrounding areas, clone facilities have been able to produce without interference, despite the fact that such shops are almost never tolerated in other Austrian states. The economic consequences of a cuttings and seed ban would be immense since clone facilities and shops are clearly legal due to a high court ruling in 2015. The Austrian Hemp Association (ÖHV) claimed in an interview with Vice, that the Vienna clone shops alone sold 250,000 pieces a month — which was before the cannabis clone-friendly verdict.
“The prosecution’s conclusion, according to which the cultivation of potent cannabis strains … justifies the intent to produce narcotic drugs, cannot be suspected in general,” the judges reasoned in the decision. After the acquittal of Vienna’s largest cannabis farmer in 2015, the whole country has been booming with new cannabis shops sprouting like mushrooms all over Austria. Even in some large gardening centers, shoppers can find cannabis cuttings next to other ornamental plants and garden furniture.
Activists of the “Arge-Canna,” an NGO patients organization from Vienna, speak of a hardly feasible project. The ban on the sale of cannabis seeds and hemp plants “as a reform of the drug law would be accomplished only with significant declines at the economic level and go along with immense job and tax money losses.”
Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett