Arge Canna: medical cannabis lobbying and patient advocacy in Austria – Health Europa

Medical Cannabis Legalisation

Mag. Klaus Hübner of patient advocacy body Arge Canna tells MCN about Austria’s medical cannabis legislation and Arge Canna’s campaigns.

Arge Canna is the primary advocacy organisation for medical cannabis patients in Austria. The group’s work includes parliamentary lobbying – including the ‘Straffreistellung’ citizens’ initiative, aimed at exempting medical cannabis users from criminal penalties, which received support from more than 14,000 signatories – and educational initiatives, as well as scientific research and individual patient support.

Arge Canna’s AC-Tropfen seal of approval is presented to cannabis producers who can demonstrate high standards of regulatory compliance.

Mag. Klaus Hübner, Finance Officer and Press Officer at Arge Canna, tells Medical Cannabis Network about the organisation’s work and Austria’s regulatory landscape.

What is the legal situation around cannabis cultivation and use in Austria? What policy changes would you like to see implemented?

The medical use of standardised cannabis medicines is legal in Austria. This means patients can legally access products like Dronabinol (THC) and Sativex as long as they have a prescription from a licensed health practitioner. However, natural cannabis flowers or other cannabis products, such as concentrates, remain illegal.

The cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes was legalised by the Austrian government in 2008 when it made a variety of changes to its laws regarding cannabis. However, this doesn’t mean personal cultivation, which remains illegal even for patients. The cultivation is done by the company AGES, which is in the hands of the Austrian Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture; and the sole purpose of this cultivation is the production of Dronabinol.

The most two important and urgent policy changes are first, the decriminalisation of patients who are possessing or cultivating cannabis for their health situation; and second, the legalisation of dried cannabis flowers as medicine in the same way as Germany.

What are the main goals of Arge Canna?

We support patients by supplying them with information about the use and dosage of medical cannabis, we show them the options which are legally possible in Austria. We recommend doctors and specialists who have experience with cannabis.

We help patients to defend themselves against discrimination from the authorities and health insurance companies, and we provide information about the potential of medical cannabis, which symptoms and diseases it could be used to treat. The association is also directly involved in research projects to scientifically substantiate the medical uses of cannabis.

What criteria must producers meet in order to obtain the AC-Tropfen seal of approval?

Since the CBD market in Europe is unregulated, we had to learn that not every producer or supplier is trustworthy. We saw substantially exaggerated claims on product labels regarding products’ CBD content, and even some nasty findings like products containing 10 times the legal limit for lead, or pesticides which are illegal in the EU.

The criteria to obtain the seal of approval are quite simple. All laboratory tests need to be within the legal limits. We work with guidelines of the European Union as well as guidelines of the legal cannabis market in the USA.

How can Arge Canna’s ‘Straffreistellung’ citizens’ initiative benefit patients using medical cannabis?

In 2014 we started our citizens’ initiative and collected signatures from more than 10,000 supporters. The initiative was then handed over to the Austrian parliament in 2017 and then collected around 4,000 additional names signed online. After a few brief debates in the House, the initiative was ‘noted’ – which is basically similar to being swept under the rug. At the very least, the initiative caused discussion in the parliament and within the political parties. One of the main goals was to legalise cultivation done by patients.

Right now, we are in the process starting another citizens’ initiative with the goal to make medical cannabis flowers available through the pharmacies as they have in Germany.

How do you see the cannabis landscape evolving in Austria in the future?

Since early 2020, we have a new government which includes representatives of the Green Party. The Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministry of Justice, are now headed by the Green Ministers Alma Zadic and Rudolf Anschober respectively. The Austrian Greens are known to be cannabis friendly: for example, the Green health spokeswoman Eva Mückstein campaigned in 2017 for legalisation of medicinal cannabis flowers modelled on the German system.

In the party’s 2001 manifesto, which is still in effect, Austria’s Greens called for the general legalisation of cannabis. Rudolf Anschober, the Minister of Health, made the first statement about medical cannabis in February. He advocated for a reasonable discussion about medical cannabis and raised the possibility of legalising medical cannabis flowers, saying: “When it comes to real medical benefits, I want to make the best possible use.” The Greens’ coalition partner is the conservative and right-wing Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), so it will be hard for the Greens to succeed. But we have a little hope there.

Mag. Klaus Hübner
Financial Officer & Press Officer
Arge Canna
www.arge-canna.at

This article will appear in the second issue of Medical Cannabis Network which is out in April. Click here to get your free subscription today.