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BEYOND THE BAN : THE NEED FOR A FRESH APPROACH TOWARDS KHAT LAW AND POLICY IN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0301-06]
Khat law and policy are currently a mix of cautious politics and limited evidence and analysis. This is coupled with strident and contested interpretations, both of the causes of the problems and of the effects of the policies. In fact, for as long as there has been Khat law and policy, there have been gaps in the evidence as well as uncertainty about how to understand and act on the evidence that policy-makers do have, so they are regularly placed in a difficult position when the issue of Khat is considered. The dramatic changes following the commodification of khat for producers and consumers alike have thrown up challenges in the field of public health and public safety that need to be carefully examined. There has therefore been a shift from a culturally integrated and moderate level of khat use, to an individualistic, hedonistic pattern. Over the last three decades, khat has become a major source of employment, income and revenue in producing areas of Ethiopia. Given its resistance to drought and low labor requirements, it is now an attractive choice for producers and people within the khat industry, on the one hand, and an issue of concern for its impact on the health, socioeconomic well-being and psychology of its ever-increasing population of consumers, on the other hand. As a result, there is no clear policy on the crop which continues to bless the nation. The regulation of khat remains hotly disputed in different producer and consumer countries, with measures ranging from banning, to customary restrictions, two approaches based on harm reduction and education. It would be useful to know what policies and interventions will help to tackle the problems associated with Khat use, yet the debate on how to address the challenges of this crop is polarized, with an added emotional and moral component that is not found in most other policy areas. This paper seeks to present the extent and nature of khat use and the problems, challenges and factors associated with it. It describes current policy responses and potential barriers to policy making and delivery, and argues the need for a fresh approach to Khat law and policy. It explores how policies and interventions could be improved using a range of methods such as semi-directive interviews, systematic study visits, academic research and and analysis of secondary sources. It presents conclusions and recommendations based on the challenges identified and alternative ways of approaching khat law and policy for the future.