UK Conservatives will ban khat – The Guardian

June 15th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Khat is a popular drug among Britain’s Somali community but it is far from harmless and should be banned.

The debate about khat (also known as qat) is new to the majority of people in Britain. Khat is a drug which is chewed in leaf form and has its origins in East Africa and parts of the Arabian peninsula. It is said to enhance social interaction and act as a stimulant to improve performance. Traditionally, khat use was an activity for men over a certain age, especially at the end of celebrations such as weddings. (more…)

Khat is a popular drug among Britain’s Somali community but it is far from harmless and should be banned.

The debate about khat (also known as qat) is new to the majority of people in Britain. Khat is a drug which is chewed in leaf form and has its origins in East Africa and parts of the Arabian peninsula. It is said to enhance social interaction and act as a stimulant to improve performance. Traditionally, khat use was an activity for men over a certain age, especially at the end of celebrations such as weddings.
It is not, however, a benign drug. Like amphetamines, it causes dependency. It is addictive. It can trigger paranoia and hallucinations. It is carcinogenic.

This drug can be legally bought in Britain with no restriction on the age of the purchaser. About seven tonnes of it are estimated to pass through Heathrow airport alone each week and the leaves are then sold at around £4 for a 250g bunch in supermarkets in East London, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield.

A recent survey found that 76% of respondents use more khat in the UK than in Somalia; in Sheffield, 59% of young Somalis chew khat. Unemployment rates among the Somali community are far above the national average. Academic achievement rates are far below the national average. And khat is in part responsible.

Faisa Mohamed, from the Somali Well Women Project said, “Back home men were the breadwinners, but when they came to Britain without jobs and took up khat, it became an addiction. They chew it all night and during the day they can’t do anything”.

In February 2005 during the passage of the Drugs Act 2005, the government discussed making khat a controlled substance. They heard how it is banned in the USA, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Uganda, Ethiopia and Madagascar, to name but a few.

The government decided that its use was not prevalent enough among the wider community, and so it remained legal. It is almost inverse racism: they were almost frightened to act because it concerned minority communities, even though many people, especially the women, from within those communities were calling for action.

This is a drug that is beginning to tear apart the social fabric of certain communities and people from those mainly East African communities are calling for action.

On Thursday night I spoke to an audience from the Somali community in Brent. I listened to them share their stories of addiction and family breakdown. Abukar told how he spent four years addicted before ending up in hospital recovering from stab wounds. He said, “I see myself as a member of British society. I want to integrate. But then I see how this drug affects our children. I see our women suffering in silence. This is the biggest barrier to integration for us.”

All communities need to be treated equally under the rule of law irrespective of their background and we must never fail to take action on issues like khat because the prevalence of the drug in the UK is relatively low or because it is restricted to some minority communities. When any section of society is under threat, affected or underachieving, we must all stand up. That is why a future Conservative government would legislate to make khat a classified drug.

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