by Micha on 01/08/2018 | Legal & Politics

One step back: will Austria ban cannabis seeds and seedlings?

Austria cannabis seeds Cannabis seeds and non-flowering cannabis plants are legal in Austria, but this is about to change. Austria’s right-wing coalition government is planning a nationwide ban. So far, nothing has been decided about when and how this is supposed to happen, but the government appears determined to go ahead.

Until now in Austria, both cannabis seeds and non-flowering cannabis plants have been legal. Unlike in the rest of the EU, in Austria it is possible to buy “White Widow”, “Jack Herer” or “Early Skunk” variety seedlings, as long as they are not in bud. However, the new governing coalition of ÖVP and FPÖ wants to put an end to this sometime soon.

Page 44 of the government legislative programme, which was negotiated back in December 2017, lists the following under the item “Addictive substances law”:

– tightening up individual provisions in the addictive substances law (SMG) especially to protect minors

– a ban on the sale of cannabis seeds and cannabis plants

So far, the Austrian addictive substances law has only criminalised growing cannabis for the purposes of obtaining narcotics. It does not ban cannabis per se, it just defines the reason why you cannot grow any weed. This is why seedlings of all sizes without buds, together with flowering plants with low THC content, have so far fallen outside the ban in Austria.

This gap in the law was uncovered a good 20 years ago by the pioneers of the first growshop in Vienna “Was denn?” (Translation: What about it?). They were the first shop to start selling seedlings. But despite a clear legal situation, for a long time the Austrian police did not want to permit any legal cannabis plants.

Around the turn of the century, new seedling shops sprouted up all over Vienna, only to be shut down again by the police. Some of the shops then went to court, on the basis of the Addictive Substances Law, to contest the confiscation of their plants and repeatedly won their cases.

Since 2006, it has been possible to produce seedlings in liberal Vienna and its surrounding area in peace, while in other parts of the country there was still a likelihood of coming in conflict with the criminal justice authorities.

Since the surprising acquittal of Vienna’s largest cannabis grower, the whole country has seen a real boom, with cannabis shops springing up all round the country like mushrooms. Especially in the border regions with the Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland and in Germany this new, legal business model is very popular.

No detailed plan from the government

A cannabis seedling in Vienna costs between €5.00 and €10.00, depending on how big it is and the medium used to grow it. In Vienna, alongside a handful of well-established wholesalers there are numerous small retailers, who have specialised in niches such as organic seedlings or growing female plants from feminised seeds.

When you purchase them, you are warned to always make sure the plant has at least 18 hours of light, otherwise it may flower and that would make it illegal. Officially, “Jack Flash” and “White Widow” are sold as houseplants, or for aromatherapy, with the producers making absolutely sure that their plants receive 18 hours of light and do not have even the tiniest buds.

No matter how small, they could be interpreted as an attempt to produce an addictive substance, making the plant illegal. If a customer does allow a plant to flower, by – against the advice of the seller – reducing the lighting to 12 hours, it is no longer the seller’s concern.

The export of cannabis continues to be banned, but border checks in the Schengen area, which includes non-EU member Switzerland, are only carried out as an exception. Austria has secretly snuck into exporting front-line cannabis genetics. Cannabis seeds are much easier to transport to Germany or Switzerland in the form of clones.

The government used Austria’s anomalous position in relation to cannabis plants to justify the inclusion of the planned measures in the government’s programme, so it is quite possible that the “Austrian seedling paradise” will soon cease to exist.

On the left, the picture shows the logo of the FPO (Freedom Party of Austria) and on the right the logo of the OVP (Austrian Popular Party).

To an inquiry made as recently as May about whether and when the government thinks it might implement its anti-cannabis measures, a spokesperson for the FPÖ headed Federal Ministry for Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection replied rather vaguely:

“We are working our way through the items in the agreed government programme. If we start working in this area, we will make the relevant announcements.”

Even if there is no detailed roadmap as yet on banning cannabis seedlings and cannabis seeds, the coalition government appears to intend to stick to its plans, to push Austria’s cannabis growers back into illegality during this legislative term.

Even “flowers and seed heads on cannabis plants” are still legal.

This was confirmed by the Vienna “Verein Hanfmuseum” (Hemp Museum Association) in 2015, as follows:

“Austrian case law does not define the emergence of flowers and seed heads on cannabis plants as the production of an addictive substance. Only the harvesting of plants that are not permitted for commercial purposes with clearly formed flowers and seed heads represents production of an addictive substance under the law,” was what the Austrian Ministry of the Interior stated at the time.

Photo of the Hemp Embassy, located at Esterhazygasse 34 in Vienna. The photo shows large cannabis plants in glass cases. The floor tiles are decorated with a cannabis leaf pattern.

With this statement on record, in 2015 the Hemp Museum Association, as part of the opening of the Hemp Embassy at Esterhazygasse 34 in Vienna, even dared to display in public some flowering cannabis plants, which were protected from unauthorised access behind glass showcases. Since then, there has been a “public cannabis buds display”.

It is even possible to sniff the specific aroma of a variety quite legally. As visitors are lining up in droves in front of this window, an air vent opens to allow the aroma from the plants to be released. The mature plants are later taken to the waste incineration site in Simmering and destroyed, under the supervision of notaries. To keep the whole process open and above board from start to finish, the entire flowering process is filmed by the Association and published on the Internet to ensure that nobody would start thinking this was trick to begin secretly producing a few grams for private use.

“The plant itself is the ambassador. We are not a ‘Let’s Legalise It Movement’, rather we are trying to find a sensible way to influence the debate,” explained the initiator Stivi Wolyniec at the opening.

If the authorities in Austria were also inclined to being sensible, then the valuable buds would not end up in the refuse, but could also have been used from the start for research purposes, as well as information.

But unlike the Netherlands or Germany, Austria does not even have legislation covering the medicinal use of cannabis. In pharmacies you can only get Dronabinol (Marinol) and Sativex. With the continuation of its illegal status, this is just as outdated and unhelpful to Austrian cannabis patients as the destruction of medicine or the planned ban on seedlings and seeds.

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