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Netherlands: Ban of the Drug Khat Proposed

(Mar. 14, 2012) The Dutch government has decided to ban the drug Khat. The fresh leaves, twigs, and shoots of the Khat plant (Catha edulis) are an addictive substance reportedly used mainly by Somalis in the Netherlands. Although moderate use of the drug “does not cause major problems,” it may be problematic for about ten percent of users, leading to damaged health and “major social problems.” (Ban on Khat, Ministry of Security and Justice website (Jan. 10, 2012); Opiumwet en straffen [Opium Act and Penalties], Trimbos Institute website (last visited Mar. 13, 2012); Khat, United States Drug Enforcement Administration (last visited Mar. 13, 2012).)

The ban was announced in a letter to the Lower House (Tweede Kamer) of the Dutch Parliament, by the Minister of Immigration, Integration and Asylum; the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports; and the Minister of Security and Justice. The Cabinet ban is partly based on the results of an investigation into Khat use in the country's Somali community, conducted by the Trimbos Institute. (Ban on Khat, supra.) The Institute is “a centre of expertise on mental health and addiction,” and, among other activities, it prepares studies and evaluations of drug policies in the Netherlands and abroad. (About Trimbos (last visited Mar. 13, 2012).)

After the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports, Edith Schippers, places Khat in List II (soft drugs) of the Opium Act (Opiumwet), trade in and possession of Khat will become punishable. Reportedly, most other European countries have long prohibited Khat use. Its active ingredients, cathinon and cathine, are already listed in the Opium Act, under List I and List II, respectively. (Id.; Opiumwet en straffen, supra; Opiumwet (May 12, 1928, as last amended on Apr. 15, 2010), OVERHEID.NL, & English translation (as of 2002), The Netherlands Cannabis Bureau.)

In October 2011, the Dutch government had also announced its intention to reclassify high-potency cannabis (15% concentration or higher) as a hard drug that carries “an unacceptably high risk.” Once the reclassification occurs, coffee shops will no longer be permitted to offer the substance, and higher penalties for trafficking, importing, and exporting it will be imposed. (High-Potency Cannabis Reclassified as Hard Drug, Ministry of Security and Justice website (Oct. 12, 2011).) Along with high-potency cannabis, the “club drug” GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate) was also slated to be relisted as a hard drug. The proposed listing changes for the two drugs apparently have not yet been adopted by the Lower House. (Opiumwet en straffen, supra.)