A good chew or good riddance

How to move forward in the regulation of khat
Axel Klein Pien Metaal
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 132 (2010) 584–589
July 2010

The article reviews the status of khat, the most recent plant based psychoactive substance to reach a global market, and considers policy making processes in general and the framework of drug control in particular. The risk assessment and classification of psychoactive drugs is a contested arena where political, economic and moral agendas collide, leaving countries that have banned khat, with significant social costs. To best manage the risks arising from the increasing availability of khat it is therefore suggested to draft a regulatory framework with clear objectives and guiding principles.

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Approaching khat as a drug control issue carries substantial social costs without coming near resolving any of the underlying problems. Given that medical risks of khat use are modest, the objective of a regulatory framework should be the protection of consumers and community. This is best achieved by establishing processes for the quality control of khat imports, and by regulating access and availability. It should therefore not be considered as a drug to be controlled but as a licit substance that needs to be regulated.

The proposed framework is in line with existing regulations for the distribution and sale of most licit items of consumption, be these psychoactives like alcohol or tobacco products, tea, coffee, or food. It is an attempt to move the discussion on khat out of the maelstrom of drug classification and drug control, so as to open the way for a realistic management model. In conclusion we would like to add a number of guiding principles for any national or international regulatory framework:

(1) The regime is put into place to protect individuals, families and communities – not for the benefit of professional interest groups.
(2) The regime has to be based on practical, realisable goals that factor in the costs of the regulation.
(3) The objective is to protect public health and social well being – not to pursue ideological ambitions, like abstinence or a ‘khat free world’.
(4) The regime must have feedback loops and flexibility to adapt and change with times.