Vice Squad
Friday, May 11, 2007
Khat in Finland

Of the twenty drugs assessed in The Lancet's recent review of potential harms from drug abuse (see the Vice Squad post from March 25, 2007), the least harmful drug was khat. The relative safety of khat, however, does not prevent it from being illegal in the United States and most of Europe -- though khat is legal in Britain and the Netherlands. Khat is most popular, of course, with Somalians and other East Africans.

One place that has seen a large increase in seizures of illegal khat imports in recent years is, curiously enough, Finland. Why does Finnish customs seize so much more khat than does Sweden, or France? One reason noted in the linked article is that Finland cares more than other countries do about reducing khat smuggling. But why care, why view khat as a problem? The answer from the linked article: "Finnish customs considers khat smuggling to be a problem because it diverts resources that could be used for investigating more serious crimes." So the Finns put resources into fighting khat because fighting khat diverts crime-fighting resources away from serious crimes. Got it.

To be fair (or at least more fair), there is something that I find almost charming in the Finnish approach. When they catch a khat courier at the airport, they impose (but do not collect) a fine, and return the smuggler the same day. No languishing in jail for these dangerous drug criminals. A crime investigator for Finnish Customs is quoted in the linked article explaining why harsher sanctions are not imposed: '
The use of tough coercive measures would be unreasonable, because the couriers are usually foreigners who have been deceived into the activity, to some extent.' This is the same approach used in the US by the DEA, right?

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