Legal Status of Khat in Selected Jurisdictions
The following chart summarizes the legal status of khat (Catha edulis, also known as kat, qat, chat, and miraa), a plant whose leaves have a stimulant effect when chewed, in seven jurisdictions. It includes information regarding the legality of khat in each jurisdiction and, where it is banned, the applicable penalties. According to applicable tax laws or secondary sources, khat appears to be legal in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen, but is banned in Jordan. Its status in Turkey, where it is categorized as a controlled substance, is unclear. Whereas it is legal under Turkish law to produce, sell, import, and export khat with a license, it appears that consumption of the substance is banned.
The law prohibits the export/import of any plants and seeds that could be used in the manufacturing of illegal narcotics or for substance abuse, and also prohibits the sale, purchase, transport, possession, swap, and delivery of such plants. The general guide of customs mentions khat as a banned item among prohibited imported and exported goods.
Two years in prison and a fine of up to Jordanian Dinar (JOD) 3000 (about US$4,234).
At least one of the substance’s principal active components, cathinone, is a listed psychotropic substance under Kenyan law, which technically makes khat a psychotropic substance and illegal (subject to some specific exceptions), but it is not listed as a prohibited plant.It is also listed as a special horticultural crop along with fruit trees (including apple and citrus) and vegetables (including tomatoes and cucumbers). Secondary sources indicate that the production, consumption, sale, and export of khat is legal in Kenya.
A 1983 law banned the planting, import, and consumption of khat, and mandated that existing khat plants be destroyed over a period of two years. The law imposed penalties in the form of custodial sentence, fines, and forfeiture of property used in the commission of a crime, and also imposed penalties on law enforcement agents found to be “reluctant, negligible or . . . lacking in vigour to stop the smuggling or farming” of the substance. The ban reportedly ended in 1989 and a widespread use of the substance resumed. Since the end of Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime in the early 1990s, the substance has remained legal in the country, with the exception if brief bans by the Islamic courts and later by Al-Shabab in the areas they controlled.
Banned for use
Listed as controlled substance under the general scope of the country’s Law on the Control of Narcotic Drugs and specifically through a 2011 Decision of the Council of Ministers placing it on the list of controlled narcotic substances. Cathinone is item 3 on the list; cathine is item 4, and the Catha edulis plant (khat) is item 5.
Legal for import/export, sale, transport, and production with license
Import/export violations: twenty to thirty years of imprisonment and a fine of “up to 20,000 days in prison.”
Selling, supplying, delivering, transporting, storing, purchasing, accepting, or carrying khat without, or in violation of, a license: ten years in prison and a fine of “up to 20,000 days.” 
If given or sold to a minor: minimum penalty of fifteen years’ imprisonment.
If violations committed within two hundred meters of facilities such as schools, dormitories, hospitals, and barracks, or places of worship, education, and similar public buildings: penalty increased by 50%.
Prepared by Global Legal Research Directorate Staff
 Chat Excise Tax Proclamation 767 of 2012, FEDERAL NEGARIT GAZETA (Aug. 27, 2012), available on the Ethiopian Legal Brief website, at https://chilot.files. wordpress.com/2013/04/proclamation-no-767-2012-chat-excise-tax-proclamation.pdf; Gessesse Dessie, Is Khat a Social Ill? Ethical Arguments About a ‘Stimulant’ Among Learned Ethiopian 5 (African Studies Centre (ASC), Working Paper No. 108/2013), available on the Leiden University website, at https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/20402/WP108.pdf?sequence=2; William Eckersley et al., Khat, Driver Impairment and Road Traffic Injuries: A View from Ethiopia, 88(3) BULL. WORLD HEALTH ORG. 235, 235 (Mar. 2010), http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/3/09-067512.pdf?ua=1.
 General Customs Guide, JORDAN CUSTOMS AUTHORITY, http://www.customs.gov.jo/chapter4.shtm (in Arabic; last visited May 05, 2015).
 Law on Combatting Illegal Narcotics art. 7.
 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act of 1994, В§ 2, 14 LAWS OF KENYA, Cap. 245 (rev. ed. 2014), available on the Kenya Law website, at http://www.kenyalaw.org:8181/exist/kenyalex/actview.xql?actid=CAP.%20245; Khat Drug Profile, EUROPEAN MONITORING CENTRE FOR DRUGS AND DRUG ADDICTION, http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/drug-profiles/khat#chemistry (last visited May 5, 2015).
 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act В§В§ 2 & 3.
 Agriculture (Declaration of Special Crops) (Horticultural Crops) Order, Agriculture Act, 1 LAWS OF KENYA, Cap. 318 (rev. ed. 2014), http://www.kenyalaw. org:8181/exist/kenyalex/sublegview.xql?subleg=CAP.%20318.
 NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, CATHA EDULIS (MIRAA): A DETAILED REVIEW FOCUSING ON ITS CHEMISTRY, HEALTH IMPLICATION, LEGAL, SOCIAL, CULTURAL, RELIGIOUS, MORAL ASPECTS AND ITS CULTIVATION 31 (June 1996), http://oris.nacosti.go.ke/modules/library/publications/research_ reports/NACOSTI-DL-RR-1044.pdf; JOHN FITZGERALD, CENTRE FOR CULTURE, ETHNICITY & HEALTH, KHAT: A LITERATURE REVIEW 7 (Mar. 5, 2009), http://www.ceh.org.au/downloads/khat_report_final.pdf; President to Assent to Law Upgrading Miraa into a Cash Crop, MYGOV (Mar. 2, 2015), http://mygov.go.ke/president-to-assent-to-law-upgrading-miraa-into-a-cash/.
 SOMALIA DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND NATIONAL GUIDANCE, WHY KAT WAS PROHIBITED IN SOMALIA 64 (Mar. 1983); A.S. Elmi et al., Experience in the Control of Khat-Chewing in Somalia, UNITED NATIONS OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME (Jan. 1, 1987), http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1987-01-01_2_page006.html.
 SUSAN BECKERLEG, ETHNIC IDENTITY AND DEVELOPMENT: KHAT AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN AFRICA 8вЂ“9 (2010).
This report by the Law Library of Congress provides information on the legal status of khat in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Turkey, and Yemen.
Khat – is it more coffee or cocaine?
In the heart of the Ethiopian community here, a group of friends gathered after work in an office to chew on dried khat leaves before going home to their wives and children. Sweet tea and sodas stood on a circular wooden table between green mounds of the plant, a mild narcotic grown in the Horn of Africa.
As the sky grew darker the conversation became increasingly heated, flipping from religion to jobs to local politics. Suddenly, one of the men paused and turned in his chair. “See, it is the green leaf,” he said, explaining the unusually animated discussion as he pinched a few more leaves together and tossed them into his mouth.
For centuries the “flower of paradise” has been used legally in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as a stimulant and social tonic.
But in the United States khat is illegal, and an increased demand for the plant in cities such as Washington and San Diego is leading to stepped up law enforcement efforts and escalating clashes between narcotics officers and immigrants who defend their use of khat as a time-honored tradition.
In the last few years, San Diego, which has a large Somali population, has seen an almost eight-fold increase in khat seizures. Nationally, the amount of khat seized annually at the country’s ports of entry has grown from 14 metric tons to 55 in about the last decade.
Most recently, California joined 27 other states and the federal government in banning the most potent substance in khat, and the District of Columbia is proposing to do the same.
“It is a very touchy subject. Some people see it like a drug; some people see it like coffee,” said Abdulaziz Kamus, president of the African Resource Center in Washington, D.C. “You have to understand our background and understand the significance of it in our community.”
Increased immigration from countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia has fueled the demand in this country and led to a cultural conflict.
“We grew up this way, you can’t just cut it off,” said a 35-year-old Ethiopian medical technician between mouthfuls of khat as he sat with his friends in the office.
In the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East, khat is a regular part of life, often consumed at social gatherings or in the morning before work and by students studying for exams. Users chew the plant like tobacco or brew it as a tea. It produces feelings of euphoria and alertness that can verge on mania and hyperactivity depending on the variety and freshness of the plant.
But some experts are not convinced that its health and social effects are so benign. A World Health Organization report found that consumption can lead to increased blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, constipation and general malaise. The report also said that khat can be addictive and lead to psychological and social problems.
“It is not coffee. It is definitely not like coffee,” said Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is something that gives you a heightened sense of invincibility, and when you look at those effects, you could take out the word ‘khat’ and put in ‘heroin’ or ‘cocaine’.”
Khat comes from the leaves and stems of a shrub and must be shipped in overnight containers to preserve its potency. It contains the alkaloid cathinone, similar in chemical structure to amphetamine but about half as potent, according to Nasir Warfa, a researcher in cross cultural studies at Queen Mary University of London.
The United Kingdom determined last year that evidence does not warrant restriction of khat. In the United States, the substance has been illegal under federal law since 1993.
But the world supply of khat is exploding. Countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya now rely on it as a major cash crop to bolster their economies. Khat is Ethiopia’s second largest export behind coffee.
Khat usage has grown so much in San Diego that Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) wrote a 2008 bill that added cathinone and its derivative cathine to California’s list of Schedule II drugs along with raw opium, morphine and coca leaves.
As of Thursday, Anderson’s bill made possession of khat a misdemeanor in California, punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of the leaf with intent to sell is a felony that carries a three-year maximum sentence in state prison.
In some cases, khat seizures have resulted in warnings and probation. In other instances, like New York City’s “Operation Somali Express” bust in 2006, which led to the seizure of 25 tons of khat worth an estimated $10 million, the perpetrators were sent to jail for up to 10 years.
“In my mind, [such arrests are] wrong,” said an Ethiopian-born cabdriver who was arrested in November in a Washington, D.C., khat bust and spoke on condition of anonymity. “They act like they know more about khat than I know.”
Khat leaves are sold attached to thick stalks or dried like tea leaves. A bundle of 40 leafed twigs costs about $28 to $50.
The plant’s cost has been linked to family problems, including domestic abuse, said Starlin Mohamud, a Somali immigrant who is completing a dissertation on khat at San Diego State University.
In fact, within the East African community in the U.S., there are many who welcome the khat restrictions.
“I have seen what it does,” Mohamud said. “Families who are trying to make ends meet on a daily basis cannot afford it. It just creates so many problems between a husband and wife to the point where a broken family is going to be the result.”
Not all lawmakers, however, support the increased efforts to prosecute khat sellers and users. California state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) called khat use “a minor problem that may be nonexistent and little understood” and voted against Anderson’s bill.
“The Legislature cannot continue to add on penalties and punishments filling up critically overcrowded prison system without weighing the consequences on how this will affect California,” she said.
Even though khat smuggling continues to grow in the United States, the level is nowhere near that of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine. Still, law enforcement officials worry that in a refined, stronger and more portable form, khat could spread outside the immigrant communities.
In Israel, a pill known as hagigat (essentially Hebrew for “party khat”), has emerged on the club scene.
Khat – is it more coffee or cocaine?