The regulation of khat, one of the most recent psychoactive drugs to become a globally traded commodity, remains hotly contested within different producer and consumer countries. As regimes vary, it has been possible to compare khat policies in Africa, Europe and North America from different disciplinary perspectives. The research established the significance of khat for rural producers, regional economies, as a tax base and source of foreign exchange. At the same time, khat as a psychoactive substance is associated with health and public safety problems that in turn are met with often ill-informed legislative responses. Bans have in turn lead to the criminalisation of users and sellers and illegal drug markets.
Khat leaves are cultivated in the highlands of the Horn of Africa, Southern Arabia and along the East African coast. In many countries, chewing khat is an age-old tradition. More recently, the mass migration of people from the Horn of Africa has been associated with the spread of khat usage to neighbouring countries, Europe and the rest of the world. Exact numbers of regular khat users on a worldwide scale do not exist, however estimates range up to 20 million. This paper presents the challenges associated with the spread of khat consumption.
In the context of a fast changing and well documented market in legal highs, the case of khat (Catha edulis) provides an interesting anomaly. It is first of all a plant-based substance that undergoes minimal transformation or processing in the journey from farm to market. Secondly, khat has been consumed for hundreds if not thousands of years in the highlands of Eastern Africa and Southern Arabia. In European countries, khat use was first observed during the 1980s, but has only attracted wider attention in recent years.
The UK and the Netherlands commissioned distinguished scholars and experts to study the social and clinical harms of khat. These experts argued that any harms associated with khat did not require a criminal law response. In rejecting that conclusion and banning khat, these two governments have created an enabling environment for organized criminal networks and may exacerbate racial discrimination in drug law enforcement. Moreover, these policies put in danger the livelihood of thousands of people in some of the world’s lowest-income settings.
The global trade in khat is controversial. The United States and most countries in Europe have banned it, considering it a psychotropic substance. But it contributes significantly to farmers’ livelihood in Eastern Africa. Though public officials in the region denounce its consumption, they benefit from the foreign exchange and tax revenues that it generates. So, how should this contradiction be resolved?
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.
Within the last decade the hitherto little known psychoactive substance of khat has emerged as a regional and international issue. In the Horn of Africa khat production has spurred an economic boom, but dramatic increases in consumption have raised public health concerns. Given the complexity of the topic spanning multiple academic disciplines and fields of professional practice, the need for a systematic overview is urgent.
The study aims to review and analyse the varied East African discourses on the effects of khat use on libido, fertility, transmission of HIV, prostitution and rape. Khat is associated, by consumers and its detractors alike, with changes in libido and sexual performance. Although there is no evidence to support their claims, detractors of khat use argue that khat causes sexual violence, causes women to enter sex work, and that chewing causes the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including the HIV virus.
Khat is as potent as a strong cup of coffee and has no organised crime involvement – yet the government wants to spend £150m on a ban that would create far more severe problems. When the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the government's expert advisors, were asked to consider khat, they said that it would be "inappropriate and disproportionate" to ban it. The cross-party home affairs select committee, on which I serve, produced a unanimous report opposing a ban. And yet the home secretary plans to do it anyway.
Calls for the herbal high khat to be banned in the UK have been renewed days before a government report into its usage is due to be published. Some members of the British-Somali community have been calling for years for khat to be made illegal. But traders say a ban would not mean an end to khat in the UK as, according to them, smuggled khat is still widely available in Europe and the US, although it is more expensive.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said there was "insufficient evidence" that khat caused health problems. The stimulant is traditionally used by members of the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. It has been outlawed by the US and Canada and in most European countries, most recently by the Netherlands. The review was commissioned by the Home Office. The ACMD said there was "no evidence" khat was directly linked with serious or organised crime. (See also: Chewing over Khat prohibition)
According to figures released by the French Customs, seizures of khat are soaring, up from 1.8 tonnes in 2011 to 4.5 tonnes in 2012, putting it on a par with cocaine (4.6 tonnes) but still far behind cannabis (24 tonnes). The rising interception rate does not mean consumption in France is increasing. Half of last month's haul was found in the freight zone of Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport. "France is a transit country," says Sébastien Tiran, general-secretary at the CDG Customs headquarters. The Netherlands ban has driven prices in Paris sharply upwards.
A decision by the UK government to ban the stimulant khat later this year is facing fierce resistance in Kenya from those farming the mildly narcotic leaves for export. Local leaders are not happy with the UK's decision to reclassify khat as a class C drug. The local MP, Kubai Kiringo, tells me Kenya could reconsider its ties to Britain if the UK does not drop the ban. "We feel bitter and short-changed. We want the home secretary to revise her decision," he says. (See also: Harmless habit or dangerous drug?)
E.J.M. Pennings, A. Opperhuizen, J.G.C. van Amsterdam
22 August 2008
In preparing a decision about the legal status of khat in the Netherlands, the Dutch Minister of Health requested CAM (Coordination point Assessment and Monitoring new drugs) to assess the overall risk of khat in the Netherlands. The present paper is a redraft of a report which formed the scientific basis of the risk evaluation procedure (October 2007). This report reviews the scientific data about khat available in the international literature. In addition, the report contains some information specific for the Netherlands (prevalence, availability of khat and public order aspects).
The UK could become a hub for smuggling the herbal stimulant khat, European police and politicians have warned. The Netherlands is the latest country to outlaw the sale of the plant, which is now banned in sixteen EU member states and Norway. Khat is freely sold in the UK and observers say the UK's isolated stance could make it the main base for Europe's khat trade. The British government has commissioned a new review of khat use.
A small Dutch city less than 20 kilometres from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport has become the hub of Europe's sales of khat, a plant chewed for its stimulant qualities, soon to be banned in the Netherlands. In a discreet warehouse tucked away in the city of Uithoorn, around a hundred Somalis and Yemenis were haggling over the latest delivery: a tonne of khat. But 15 of the European Union's 27 states and Norway have already listed khat as an illegal narcotic and the Netherlands too announced earlier this month it would ban khat.
The leafy substance khat, grown by many Kenyan farmers, is of economic and cultural significance to many Africans. The UK government has decided, against the advice of its own experts, to treat khat as a class C drug to "protect vulnerable members of our communities". In July, UK Home Secretary Theresa May said khat would be banned "at the earliest possible opportunity" but a ban has yet to be imposed. A team of Kenyan MPs lobby the UK government not to follow suit.
Paul Griffiths, Dominique Lopez, Roumen Sedefov, Ana Gallegos, Brendan Hughes, André Noor, Luis Royuela
07 May 2010
The aim of the study was to review the information available on the use of khat (Catha edulis) in the EU, and to assess the future use of this drug and related substances. Khat use sits awkwardly within the current EU reporting framework, and this hampers the production of a European-level analysis of the use of this drug. Why this is so, and what information is available at the European level, are the topics addressed in this paper. The analysis is extended to consider if the current evidence suggests that this drug, or synthetic variations of the psychoactive compounds it contains, are likely to play a greater role in the European drug scene of the future.