Vienna’s cannabis protest: 80,000 take part against public pot ban

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Covidwatch activist says ban on taking part in civic ceremonies a democratic tool

Tens of thousands of Austrians have gathered in the country’s capital, Vienna, to protest against an impending ban on, and still unclear penalty for, using cannabis in public.

Covidwatch, a group that opposes legalising recreational use of the drug, estimated that more than 80,000 people took part in Tuesday’s demonstration, while city authorities put the number at 75,000.

Covidwatch director Dorothea Schöbeler told the website of the Dienst tabloid that if police had used more coercive measures against people carrying cannabis out in public, “we would have imagined much larger numbers”.

Authorities in Austria, which has an estimated 2,000 legal marijuana-smoking shops, say they want to prevent “pot-smoking activities” on the anniversary of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

“Covidwatch believes that taking part in civic ceremonies, religious ceremonies, taking part in cultural events, isn’t illegal,” Schöbeler said.

The standard penalty for the possession of cannabis under Austrian law is “committing a damaging act that leads to death”, punishable by up to one year in prison.

The Vienna city government and the police could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, the police authority in the south-western town of Hauckendorf recommended that public officials should refrain from smoking cannabis at public events unless there is a specific reason to do so.

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