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Looming Dutch Khat Ban Draws Criticism, Complaints

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #729)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

The Dutch conservative coalition government has signaled since January that it intended to prohibit khat, the mild stimulant plant from the Horn of Africa, and now, indications are that the ban will happen soon. But the move is drawing heat from critics who charge it is based more on political considerations than hard science.

Yemeni chewing khat, 2009 (
The proposed khat ban is of a piece with the center-right government's moves to restrict access to Holland's famed cannabis coffee shops -- it plans to ban foreigners from some border coffee shops as early as next month -- and its decision to treat hashish as a hard drug.

In Holland, which has seen increasing tension around issues of immigration and assimilation, khat is used almost exclusively by the Somali immigrant community. The center-right government has argued that khat use impedes Somalis' integration into Dutch society and that 10% of the Somali community is addicted to it.

A proposal to prohibit khat awaits only a discussion -- no vote needed -- in parliament before it becomes law. While drug policy is typically handled by the Dutch justice and health ministries, the khat ban is the initiative of migration and asylum affairs Minister Gerd Leers.

"I'm involved in the ban because it appears to cause serious problems, particularly in the Somali community," he told Dutch radio in January. "They are lethargic and refuse to cooperate with the government or take responsibility for themselves or their families."

But according to the United Arab Emirates newspaper the National, scientists disagree with Leers about khat's impact and danger, and the Somali community, while cognizant of problems associated with khat use, sees the move as immigrant bashing.

"There is a sense that it may be more symbolic for political reasons rather than aimed at improving our situation," said Mohamed Elmi of FSAN, the umbrella organization of Somali associations. "You can regulate or register or you can handle the problems with distribution in another way," he said. "The Somali community has many problems that need to be tackled and I don't see them doing anything about those."

Elmi scoffed at the government's assertion that 10% of the 25,000 Somalis in the country have a khat problem, saying the number of khat users is half that and "only a handful" are problem users.

Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Mental Health and Addiction backed Elmi's stand. They studied khat use for the government and reported the number of problem khat users as several hundred, but added that in many of those cases, in was khat in combination with hard drugs or alcohol to blame.

"We made very different recommendations based on our study," said study coauthor Clary van der Veen. "The large group of social users is not a problem. You may need to inform them better and point out the long-term effect, just like with smoking and drinking," she said. She also questioned whether a ban on khat would truly help the integration of Somali immigrants. "In countries where khat has been banned, the integration of Somalis is not faring better," she said.

The government's ban is also drawing criticism from the former head of the Dutch police union, Hans van Duijn, who has become a prominent critic of both the Dutch government's "lurch to the right" and the war on drugs. That the idea of the ban is to help integrate Somalis was "nonsense," he said, as were government claims it was responding to pressure from other European countries where khat is illegal.

"They are using a lot of misleading arguments, such as recently when the center-right argued for a ban on the sale of hashish because it was said to benefit North-African criminal gangs and the Taliban. As if by banning the sale of hashish in Dutch coffee shops this would end," he said.

And prohibition never works, anyway, van Duijn noted. "The dealers will try hard to find a solution because they now stand to make more money, which will not benefit the user. It is a mystery to me what the benefits are."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


TrebleBass (not verified)

khat in its natural form, as far as i've read, is one of the safest psychoactive substances in the world. and if the dutch government wants to help a specific group of immigrants integrate better, they should offer some kind of helpful assistance. otherwise, leave them alone. criminalization is an act of segregation, not one of integration. In fact, there's something obviously wrong when the talk of criminalization of a substance is completely related to a specific group of people. 

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 5:54pm Permalink
Alex Rai (not verified)

You can't throw people in jail for being from Somali (at least not without severe criticism), but you can certainly criminalize khat and use "public health" as an excuse to jail a large number of Somali people for no particular reason.

Even better, it gives the police an excuse to spy on their communities, stop and harass them, take away their children, and generally make them feel unwelcome.

This sort of subtle racism has worked great in North America for years... even helped get rid of the peace movement. What do a bunch of peaceful hippies have in common? Make that illegal and use it as an excuse to beat them into submission. Nobody likes an expanded mind anyway.

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 11:41pm Permalink

I feel for the Dutch.  Holland is a relatively small country facing anti-liberty pressures more from outside than from inside.  It's hard to maintain tolerance among the intolerant.  Therefore they are trying to simultaneously accommodate opposing prejudices -- a fool's errand.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 6:09pm Permalink

that also The Netherlands is implementing the same stupid senseless laws of the other European countries...Once it was a sort of 'oasis' of tolerance and pragmatism, now is fast becoming a racist and obtuse country...Often I would change planet....

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 5:01am Permalink
Ary (not verified)

For those who are not familiar with the ins & outs of Dutch politics, this minister Leers is a straightdown fascist (who is sitting in this government for an originally Christian party that used to get a third of the national voters, has ours roots in farmers communities and over the past years lost all of its social engagement) that recently got known for harassing an immigrant boy who came here as a little kid who did rally well in getting himself educated and adapted to Dutch standard as previous politicians have demanded immigrants do. Leers took an unprovoked initiative to kick this decent and-behaved boy out of the country and send him back to his war-ridden African desertstate where he has no family, no roots and no chance of survival. He than refused to back down as all of the country burst out on loud protests, and when after half a year of struggling a dad compromise was reached, he started once more with theed very same demands all over again as if he were fighting a personal crusade here. In Holland, refugees are used to be kept locked up in 'asylum seekers centers' for endless periods of time, often more than ten years, without getting any certainty about their future destiny and whether they eventually will be allowed to stay or not. During this time they have no rights; nook right to work, no right to educate themselves and not any other right either; and we are often talking highly educated people here. It's like they are being buried alive one could say.
Sun, 04/15/2012 - 10:35am Permalink

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