Germany And Austria: Legal Cannabis Situation
4 min

Germany And Austria: Legal Cannabis Situation

4 min

Billions are spent in Germany and Austria to hunt cannabis users. Let's investigate the legal cannabis situation in these fascinating countries.

Mixed feelings and opinions regarding the legal status of cannabis in Germany and Austria have stirred many debates. Both countries, abundant with fascinating history, have a lot to offer surrounding the marijuana culture. Many medicinal and recreational users roam the streets of Vienna and Berlin with a brighter future in mind, tackling the outdated cannabis laws. Billions are spent on the war against cannabis users, growers and sellers. The liberality towards marijuana seems to shift up and down. What does the future hold regarding cannabis' legal status in both Germany and Austria?


According to EMCDDA, in 1994 the Federal Constitutional court ruled that "insignificant quantity" of cannabis for personal use will be permitted and not persecuted, basically, the possession of marijuana is tolerated only if the defendant can prove that it’s purposed for personal use. Although this legal attitude shifts dramatically according to different geographical states in the country. In liberal Berlin, up to 15 grams are allowed for personal use, whilst in the east-central state, Thuringia, even small amounts of cannabis can lead to arrests. In Schleswig Holstein, up to 30 grams are tolerated. Henceforth it's important to keep this in mind when speaking of Germany as one entity in the question of cannabis' legality.

A poll conducted in January 2014 by the Stern magazine showed that 65% would reject any further mitigation of the cannabis legislation, although, in a later (more legitimate) study conducted in October 2014, it's shown that 82% of Germans are pro-legalization for medicinal purposes, while 30% believe it should be completely legal for medicinal and recreational use. One must mention that statistics are up for debate, but the widespread use of marijuana in Germany can be empirically ascertained.

There are mixed messages encompassing the legal status of cannabis. Last year Germany's Interior Minister Frank Henkel (CDU) decided that the liberal cannabis smoking area of Görlitzer Park in Berlin, where it was common for people to buy and smoke cannabis has become a zero-tolerance zone, where smoking a joint is now considered a serious offense. But in general, Berlin is still very relaxed regarding personal use, and cannabis organizations such as DHV (German Hemp Association) and pro-cannabis political parties are still fighting the good fight.

Even though it seems that Germany is spiraling down, the legality of marijuana for seriously ill patients seems to be on the rise. In May this year, Health Minister Hermann Gröhe made a proposal to make cannabis more available for sick patients, and that cannabis should be allowed to be purchased from local drug stores. Even though it sounds groundbreaking, this will only be for patients that qualify as seriously ill for diseases like Parkinson's, AIDS, Cancer, Hepatitis C etc. It's predicted that if this law passes in spring 2017, 800,000 users will be eligible for legal cannabis prescriptions, although this number is debatable, considering the proposed requirements of obtaining marijuana. If the law passes, cannabis growth will only be allowed by the government, so the patients will have to cough up some serious cash, unless they participate in a cannabis study, which will exempt them from any significant costs for marijuana medicine. Georg Wurth, representing the German Hemp Association is strongly against this methodology, with the claim that scientific experiments should be voluntary and not forced upon patients. The positive direction of medical legalization is, of course, undeniable, but there’s still a long way to go.

In Germany, the police are spending 58,000 hours surveilling the Görlitzer Park or "Görli", which costs around €2 million. Due to this surveillance, dealers and smokers effortlessly vacated the park and took their cannabis endeavors to neighboring locations. Germany is spending around €5.2-6.1 billion on drug offenses of which three-quarters involve cannabis activities.


Austria has a population of 8.5 million people with a significant cannabis liberality. Since 1971, the law differentiated personal use from commercial distribution, and the government prioritized treatment over criminalization. Between 1971-2008, the amount of cannabis possessed by an individual separated the legal status between commercial and private use. The legal limit was 2g of pure THC which constitutes 20g of cannabis if the THC content is 10% (or 10g of cannabis containing 20% of THC). In 2008, a law was passed where the separation of private and commercial use was not the quantity but the commercial activities which can be ascertained. Therefore it's legal to have significant amounts of cannabis as long as it's proven to be for personal use. Even though this sounds groundbreaking, the laws regarding distribution were made more severe, giving a joint to a friend could be classed as selling. Regarding distribution, anything above 20g of pure THC is considered as a serious offense and could lead to potential imprisonment. When it comes to selling cannabis growing equipment, there are more than twenty Grow Shops in Vienna. It's legal to sell equipment, but unfortunately, these shops attract risk for being directly linked to cannabis distribution.

It's legal to grow cannabis as long as the plants are not in the flowering stage since the legality of growing is determined by the THC amount, not the entirety of the plant. THC levels up to 0.3% don’t constitute anything illegal according to EU regulations, so growing hemp for commercial use is acceptable. In 2008, the Austrian government passed a bill where the sole Health Ministry would be responsible for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes, although no growing activity has been seen from the Health Ministry, so Austria has imported synthetic cannabis, Dronabinol and Sativex from Germany for patients with correct licences provided by their physician. So, growing for medicinal use remains illegal, although there have been cases where growers successfully argued their case by claiming that the plants are for personal medicinal use.

Hanf Institut (Hemp institute) based in Vienna claims that the country spends €400 million on persecuting cannabis users. This article states that the government spends all this money on persecuting 29,000 "crimeless criminals". They also state that on average, one indictment costs €15,000 for a possession equivalent of 40grams of cannabis, which is approximately 100 joints, which has a market value of roughly €320.

This year, June 1st, there has been an intensification of the Narcotic Substances Act, where police are persecuting street salesmen with intensive action, in Vienna and other larger cities. It has been calculated that Austria could generate approximately €600 million in potential taxes, if cannabis was to be made legal. That number is calculated on the basis of what the police has confiscated, so the amount is probably significantly higher.


The European economy is in serious deficit, spending billions on superfluous cannabis witch-hunts is a sign of absurdity. The strongest pro-cannabis arguments are to improve people's health, destigmatize cannabis users, pour aforementioned billions into socially innovative institutions and making Europe great again. The significant statistics regarding the decrease of crime in Colorado after legalization needs to stand as an example for changing the current cannabis laws in all European countries. So, what exactly does the future hold for Germany and Austria regarding cannabis legal status? Only time will tell.

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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