The Narcotic Substances Act came into force in 1998 and continued the Austrian drug policy approach of making a clear distinction between criminals trafficking drugs and people with drug-related health problems. The law distinguishes between these two categories using several criteria, with the quantity of drugs involved (above or below the threshold defined in a Ministry of Health decree) being the most relevant factor. Penalties may vary according to whether the drug is classed as a narcotic or psychotropic drug. Special provisions exist for cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The use of drugs is not mentioned as an offence. The sentence for the possession of drugs for personal use is up to six months in prison or a fine, provided the quantity of drugs is not over the defined threshold. A range of alternatives to punishment are in place, including mandatory suspension of proceedings in certain defined cases involving possession or acquisition of small amounts of drugs for personal use; this procedure was streamlined in 2015, with the police now sending offenders directly to health authorities. Therapy instead of imprisonment may also be offered to drug addicts who have committed more serious crimes and are willing to undergo treatment. However, if aggravating circumstances apply, such as the involvement of minors or commercial intent, the penalty is up to three years’ imprisonment.
The maximum penalties for trafficking large quantities (more than 15 times the threshold quantity) were increased in 2008 to two or three years’ imprisonment for possession, depending on the type of drug, five years’ imprisonment for import or production and imprisonment for 1-10 years, 10-20 years or life for other crimes, depending on the particular circumstances (i.e. commercial purposes, membership of a gang, previous convictions and amount of drugs involved).
To inhibit the trade in new psychoactive substances (NPS), the New Psychoactive Substances Act and New Psychoactive Substances Regulation came into force in 2012. The distribution or sale of substances listed in Annex I of the Regulation, which may be defined in groups using a generic approach, may be punished by imprisonment for up to two years for basic offences or 1-10 years when distribution of the substance has led to serious bodily harm or death. Possession of NPS for personal use is not punishable.
Drug law offence (DLO) data are the foundation for monitoring drug-related crime and are also a measure of law enforcement activity and drug market dynamics; they may be used to inform policies on the implementation of drug laws and to improve strategies.
In 2015, the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior reported 32 907 DLOs, which is the highest number ever recorded. The statistical data indicate that 8 out of 10 DLOs were linked to cannabis, followed by cocaine, crack and amphetamines. The majority of all DLOs were classified as misdemeanours related to handling drugs and the remaining offences were related to trafficking.
Legal penalties: the possibility of incarceration for possession of drugs for personal use (minor offence)
NB Year of data 2015.
In 2015, a total 32 907 drug law offences were reported in Austria