Drug Policy

The Partnership for a Drug-Free Somalia


Religious police in areas of Somalia controlled by Islamists are cracking down on tobacco smokers and khat chewers. A couple weeks ago in the port city of Kismayo, they arrested 22 tobacco fiends, who were expected to be flogged upon conviction. I repeat this news at the risk of giving Michael Bloomberg ideas because I was a bit surprised by the targeted drugs, both stimulants that are quite different in their effects from wine, the prohibition of which is the Koranic basis for shunning certain psychoactive substances. Tobacco was widely permitted by Islamic authorities until relatively recently, and they started turning against it because of its health hazards (the same reason Bloomberg condemns it), not because of its resemblance to wine. Khat is commonly used by observant Muslims in places such as Somalia and Yemen, and my impression was that objections to its use were not religious but practical and economic: e.g., that long khat breaks undermine productivity. It sounds like the distraction factor was a concern for Somalia's theocrats, who initially prohibited khat only during Ramadan and later made the ban permanent, calling the plant a bad influence. They seem to be taking a cue from another group of anti-drug fanatics.

[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the tip.]

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  1. And yet, there are still some diehards who insist we will never find common ground with the Islamic fundamentalists.

  2. James:
    I do believe you are right. Dr. Bloomberg and Fuhrer Dr. Frieden both share a lot in common with the ruling theocrats of Somalia.
    Certainly both like to be personally involved in every aspect of their citizens lives. Of course that is only for their own good. And of couse both believe in their infallability in the wake of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And finally both would like to expand their sphere of influence to allow more lucky citizens of the world to have the choices in their lives made for them.

  3. All over the world, self-righteous minds think alike.

  4. Jacob,

    I am deeply offended that you’re spelling it “khat” instead of “qat.” I demand an immediate retraction as you are endangering one of the most useful obscure scrabble words in the whole dictionary.

  5. I am personally overjoyed that all of Somalia’s large, difficult problems have been eradicated. I would also like to offer my congratulations and admiration to the Somalis for such a rapid turnaround of what, just recently (last week), was one of the bottom three nations on the planet. Get rid of the tobacco and khat users and nirvana is a given. Again, keep up the good work, America can learn about priorities from you.

  6. But are they really doing it for the children?

  7. One more point. Although I only suspect khat, I am certain that tobacco IS gentically modified through selective (artificial and evil) cultivation. Gosh, if we were only so in tune with the environment like the third world, we could live in harmony with nature and bliss with each other.

    I am truly humbled by the wisdom displayed by the Somalis and the Friends of the Earth.

    Yeah, the connection is probably a stretch.

  8. Is qat/khat illegal in the US?

  9. yeah, I’ve always wondered that too. could some enterprising head shop owner start growing and selling qat, or would it be no-knock raid, oops I shot your dog time?

  10. McPimp, belle: yes, it is illegal. And they do go out of their way to enforce it. People are in jail over it and more on the way.


  11. I agree with the sentiment of the post

    however, it’s also worth noting that khat use (or qat – there is actually no official spelling AFAIK) is endemic in somalia. from what i remember following some notes to Bowden’s ‘Black Hawk Down’..


    …that 80+% of the adult male Somali population uses the stuff regularly, and in particular, militia-connected soldiers/thugs tend to binge and get into random gun-scraps. it’s a major health problem that is connected to a deeply ingrained culture of violence in somalia.

    obviously, i dont think beatings with sticks are a solution, but for a country that hasnt had any government for 16+ years this isnt all that surprising as something they’d go after first as a ‘problem’. Khat is a unique problem there. Tobacco is obviously a different dog. Again – i’m not endorsing any kind of state-decreed prohibition, but i just think the issue is clearer when you consider the role the stuff plays in their culture.

    this is kind of interesting – some medical research on somali khat use that also points out that prohibition would ultimately be futile:


    “The khat problem must be addressed by means other than prohibition, given the widespread use and its role in Somali culture […] We believe that khat abuse has become a tragic obstacle for the reconstruction of this war-torn society; consequently, there is an urgent need to address [the] health issue with means other than prohibition and regulation of the demand side through taxation, as khat is integral to the Somali culture.”

  12. Also interesting

    (love the ‘dont forget the children’ point at the end)


    ” The rise of khat use in the United States seems to coincide with the increase in the number of immigrants arriving from eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.16 In 2000, the U.S Customs Service seized 70,008 pounds of khat, an increase of 21,070 pounds from the previous year. In Columbus, Ohio, which has the second largest Somali population in the United States, police seized 860 pounds in 2002, an increase over the previous 2 years’ seizures of 633 pounds and 8.5 pounds, respectively.17 New York City, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle, and San Diego may see an increase in khat arrests due to growing eastern African communities.18

    Many immigrants are unaware that khat is illegal in the United States. As a result, they often use the drug in public and later face arrest. Some cities even have seen khat advertised and sold openly in grocery stores and restaurants. Many sellers, in an attempt to keep sales of the drug quiet, only deal with users of eastern African descent and turn away everyone else.

    On the street, khat currently sells for $28 to $50 a bundle (100 to 200g) and $300 to $440 a kilogram;19 these prices currently compare with those of some other drugs, such as ecstasy and oxycodone, but are considerably lower than prices of other narcotics, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Khat’s low cost makes it appealing to many drug users, especially youths.”

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