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Parliamentary questions
31 August 2010
Answer given by Mrs Reding on behalf of the Commission

The Commission has no specific information on the link between the importation of khat and the operations of terrorist organisations.

A recent study on Global Illicit Drug Markets(1) performed for the European Commission concluded that potential ties between drug trafficking and terrorism or armed insurrection are important, but only in a few places, such as Afghanistan and Colombia. The study concluded that in these two specific cases the connection between terrorism and the drug trade may be considered an important unintended consequence of the prohibition of drugs. Due to the fact that the earning potential of manufacturing and trading illicit drugs is considerable, terrorist and insurectionist groups are keen to generate income from it.

Regarding khat, two of the active components of the khat plant — cathinone and cathine — have been placed under international drug control, but not the khat plant itself. The price of Khat is relatively modest compared to that of other narcotic drugs such as cannabis. For example, a kilogram of khat may cost EUR 10 at retail level in the Netherlands, against a retail price of EUR 4 to 9 for 1 gram of cannabis resin or herb in the majority of EU Member States. In that regard, the earning potential for khat is much lower than that of the ‘classical’ illicit drugs. Furthermore, the concentration of the active components in khat is low, which entails that relatively large quantities need to be consumed, with a normal dosage of the substance of between 100 to 200 grams for a typical user. Taking into account that the khat plant degrades within days after its harvesting, there is limited risk of stockpiling or export along lengthy transporting routes.

According to recent data(2) from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addition (EMCDDA), khat is controlled in 13 EU Member States and Norway. In the 14 other Member States, the khat plant is not controlled. This may be partly due to the fact that khat is relatively unknown in those countries and because the active components cathinone and cathine are controlled under the international drug control conventions. According to the EMCDDA, there is some information to suggest that there is substantial importation of the plant into the UK and the Netherlands(3).

In 2006, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence of the World Health Organisation, which is the mandated body to conduct risk assessments in relation to the UN Drug Control Conventions, conducted an assessment of khat(4). The Committee reviewed the data on khat and determined ‘that the potential for abuse and dependence is low. The level of abuse and threat to public health is not significant enough to warrant international control. Therefore, the Committee did not recommend the scheduling of khat. (…)’ The assessment also indicated that the use of khat is generally limited to certain ethnic groups, in most countries to Somali, and often adult men. In the EU, use is generally limited to adult men in these specific and relatively small groups. Studies have also shown that most khat users are unlikely to use other drugs, which distinguishes them from other groups of recreational drug users in Europe.

In 2005, a similar assessment(5) conducted in the UK by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) came to the same conclusion. Regarding the involvement of organised crime, it concluded that no criminal networks were related to the trade in khat and that ‘it is clear that khat dealing in the UK is a low profit business. If khat becomes more expensive due to criminalisation, there is the potential for exploitation by organised criminal gangs already involved in the trade of illegal drugs’. The ACMD estimated that between 5 to 7 tonnes of khat arrived in the UK every day, the majority of which in bulk transport towards the USA, making the UK a transit country for khat bound forthose countries where the plant is illegal.

In 2007, the Dutch Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of new Drugs (CAM) conducted a risk assessment on khat(6) and concluded that there was no evidence linking the use of khat to organised crime. The total number of transports as well as the total volume in kilograms of khat transported into the Netherlands was relatively stable or even declining. Regarding the export of khat to third countries, the difference in price level (EUR 10 in the Netherlands, EUR 35 in Denmark) was considered the main incentive for onward trade. CAM estimated that approximately 750 tons of khat per year had been imported into the Netherlands in 2005‑07. Over 75 % of the importation of khat into the Netherlands was done by a limited number of legitimate companies, while the remaining 25 % was imported by individuals or one-man enterprises. The risk assessment also concluded that khat had the lowest ranking of risk among all the substances subjected to a risk assessment by CAM, which was in accordance with a WHO assessment in 2006. The CAM recommended not prohibiting the use and sale of khat.

The Commission considers that existing monitoring mechanisms, including the EMCDDA and its network of Reitox focal points, are equipped to report on any potential changes in the khat market.

As the EMCDDA concludes in its publication, ‘khat is a drug that is bulky, needs to be transported, sold and used quickly, and has an unfamiliar and inefficient route of administration (chewing), is not likely to be attractive to either illicit drug traffickers or consumers who have access to a wide range of other, more convenient alternatives’.

(1)European Commission, A Study on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998‑2007, JLS/2007/C4/005); performed by Trimbos Institute and RAND, p. 13, 246.
(2)Griffiths, et. al., ‘Khat use and monitoring drug use in Europe: The current situation and issues for the future’, Article in Press, Journal of Ethno pharmacology, 2010.
(3)Griffiths, et. al., ‘Khat use and monitoring drug use in Europe: The current situation and issues for the future’, Article in Press, Journal of Ethno pharmacology, 2010, Section 4.2.
(4)World Health Organisation, 34th Expert Committee on Drug Dependence; WHO Technical Report Series 942, p. 10.
(5)Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, ‘Khat (Qat): Assessment of Risk to the Individual and Communities in the UK’, 2005.
(6)Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of new Drugs, ‘Risicoschatting qat 2007’, Bilthoven, November 2007.

OJ C 191 E, 01/07/2011
Last updated: 10 September 2010Legal notice