By Marguerite Arnold
On Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, “Medical Cannabis Day” reform advocates in Austria celebrated with at least one major march. More than 10,000 people showed up to advocate for drug legalization in Vienna.
Marchers met at 1 p.m. in the Museum Quarter of the city.
Medical cannabis laws in the country are similar to those in Germany and across the EU. Synthetic cannabis pharmaceuticals are available from pharmacies with a regular prescription.
Cultivation in Austria is not as well defined as it is in neighboring Germany. Here, cannabis cultivation is allowed for “medical and scientific purposes,” but not much beyond that. In Germany, however, just last year, sick patients began to have the right to grow at home if they were too poor to purchase it from a pharmacy or to have health insurance that covered it. That said, to further confuse the issue, Austrians can purchase cannabis seeds and seedlings legally. Possession is still technically illegal, but it is considered a minor offense.
Hemp production, on the other hand, is coming back in the country. A region in northern Austria has begun producing hemp again on a semi-industrial basis, reviving what had been an 800-year-old industry in the country.
Domestic hemp is widely used in Austria for clothing, building material, home insulation and for the production of medical hemp oil.
Last fall, reform appeared to be on a faster track after the political success of the Neos, a new party considered to be neoliberal in outlook. Party chairman Matthias Strolz, also known for his alternative lifestyle, including yoga and meditation, immediately made a statement to the media about his party’s intent to push reform forward.
“We support self-responsibility and liberty. Legalization makes sense,” he said. The Neos fully support home-grow for medical patients, which is a very popular theme in this part of the world as it is in Germany.
As in Germany, addiction experts and the established medical community are being faced with more and more evidence that medical marijuana has vast and much needed efficacy that cannot be ignored scientifically any more.
It is likely that most states in Europe will follow Germany’s lead on legalization, however. The country has performed more scientific trials to date than any other European country, and is closely allied with developments in Israel. With Germany considering full THC legalization, certainly for medical use, and country trials underway in Italy, Austria should move toward legalization on the medical front first and in tempo with its immediate neighbors.
According to government statistics, more than 20 percent of the country, or about 1 million Austrians, have used cannabis in their lifetime and close to 13 percent are estimated to be regular users.