Chewing over Khat prohibition
Khat has been consumed for thousands of years in the highlands of Eastern Africa and Southern Arabia.Strict bans on khat introduced in Europe ostensibly for the protection of immigrant communities have had severe unintended negative consequences.
Discussions about appropriate regulatory systems and the implications of rising khat use for European drug policies should take cognizance of social, demographic and cultural trends, and compare the existing models of control that exist in Europe. Khat provides a unique example of a herbal stimulant that is defined as an ordinary vegetable in some countries and a controlled drug in others. It provides a rare opportunity to study the effectiveness, costs and benefits of diverse control regimes. As long as khat is legally produced and traded, it also allows for the views of stakeholders such as farmers and traders to be included in policy discussions.
Conclusions & recommendations
- Where khat has been studied extensively, namely Australia, the UK and until recently the Netherlands, governments have steered clear of prohibition because the negative medical and social harms do not merit such controls.
- Strict bans on khat introduced ostensibly for the protection of immigrant communities have had severe unintended negative consequences.
- Khat prohibition has failed to further the integration, social incusion and economic prosperity of the Somali community.
- Assumptions about causal relations between khat use and the problems of a vulnerable minority with untreated mental health conditions need to be dealt with carefully and should not be used as a pretext for criminalising khat.
- Migrant communities and problematic users need a constructive engagement and targeted interventions. The criminalisation of a cultural practice will only intensify the problem that community leaders are seeking to address.