Regulating khat

Dilemmas and opportunities for the international drug control system
Axel Klein, Susan Beckerleg & Degol Hailu
International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 20, Issue 6
November 2009

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.

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The empirical work from Africa provides a strong argument for promoting evidence-based approaches to khat regulation, harnessing the positive aspects of the khat economy to develop a control model that incorporates the voices and respects the needs of rural producers. Ultimately, the framework for khat may provide both a model and an opportunity for revising the international treaties governing the control of other plant psychoactive-based substances.

The use of khat has moved from traditional contexts into a new, urban and commercial environment, where custom no longer provides protection against the adverse consequences of problematic use. It should also be recognised that there is an inherent need for recreational facilities in the new urban centres along the khat frontier, where khat can play a constructive part in the evolution of a new culture of consumption. Khat outlets are an important pillar of the urban informal sector, while khat production is: “a factor of the lack of alternative livelihoods in the growing areas, and reflects the unsustainability of crops that have previously supported the rural economy. The discussion on khat, therefore, needs to place the industry within a development framework.”