Concerns about Khat legal change

Khat Report
Khat Report

Story: Lisa Swift & Graham Jones

Government plans to ban khat have caused concern in Burngreave after Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced plans to categorise it as a Class C drug.

Khat is a green, leafed shrub that has been chewed as a mild stimulant for centuries by people who live in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is used socially by communities from Somalia, Eritrea and Yemen. Khat is always used fresh and is imported daily to the UK. Many shops in Burngreave sell it. In July 2013, the Home Secretary said,

“The government will ban khat so that we can protect vulnerable members of our communities and send a clear message to our international partners and khat smugglers that the UK is serious about stopping the illegal trafficking of khat.”

No evidence of illegal trade

However, there is no evidence that the UK is a hub for khat distribution to countries where it is banned. The Government ignored the advice of its own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which stated it,

“considers that the harm of khat does not reach the level required for classification. Therefore, the ACMD recommend that the status of khat is not changed.”

Gamal Suliman owns Aden Corner and specialises in selling khat (pictured above). He said,

“We don’t know where we stand. This is our business and income. People who chew khat are very reputable. We have students, doctors, solicitors, taxi drivers. We know some people abuse it but it’s very few. Chewing khat is part of our culture. Places where people chew are for young and old together. Chewing is part of weddings and important events. It’s racist, the ban is targeted at Yemenis and Somalis. No one has come to speak to us about the ban. We need a clear message about what’s going to happen. We want to know in black and white. We want dates.”

Ban could start in April

The date the ban will come into force is still unknown. However local police and public health workers are preparing for the ban to be in place by April, and are planning an awareness raising campaign. Gamal Al-Hadideh, Vice Chair of the Yemeni Community Association, said,

“There has been no consultation with the Yemeni or Somali community, no-one has told us what is happening and no-one has asked what the consequences of a ban could be. Khat is like coffee; there is no evidence of harm. Theresa May asked for the research to be done and then ignored it. People are really angry about it and wonder what they will do after the ban. One person said to me he only chews on Saturday. Compare that to the use of alcohol in the city.”

Gamal’s father, Mohsen, who is 82, said,

“I’ve been chewing for 65 years, only on Saturdays and bank holidays. It’s been coming into this country for decades. Why ban it now? In those days there were jobs around, now there are no jobs. Chewing khat is important for socialising. If they stop it, it will cause problems.”

The ACMD points out that khat is not an illegal drug, is not a high value substance and makes very little profit in the UK market.

No evidence of harm

There is little evidence to suggest that khat is physically addictive and most evidence suggests that khat alone does not directly cause mental disorders, although it complicates the treatment of existing mental health problems.

There is no evidence that khat causes any related crime or social harm. However, some people fear a shortage of khat will lead users to turn to alcohol instead and this will cause far more problems.

Mr Hani Al-Shami said,

“I chew khat in the evening and the next day I wake up early at 7.30 and go to work as normal. It’s no problem. It’s going to cause a lot of problems banning it. There will more fighting problems and problems in the street, because khat makes you more friendly and it’s chewed indoors.”

Abdul Nasser said,

“If they stop it, the problems will increase. There will be trouble in the streets. People will start drinking instead, but people can’t handle alcohol. Khat makes you relaxed and spend a long time indoors and people are very quiet. I’m afraid of what might happen after it stops.”

Police who attended a briefing at Sorby House in January said they did not expect a lot of extra policing in Sheffield as most imports would be stopped at the airport. Policing khat would be the same as cannabis and they have no extra resources.

In their report the ACMD say that

“generally khat chewing is a social event which takes place within family homes, community parties and at khat cafes. Traditionally khat has been used as a medicine and was widely perceived to be a food, not a drug.”

Halima said,

“There is no problem with khat. There are other problems in Sheffield with crime but khat is not a drug. I chew it at home and I don’t come out of the house after 6pm because it’s not safe.”

Amer Yafie said,

“I’m chewing right now. Look at me! I’m fine. You can ask my wife: she will tell you. I come home and talk to the children. We play on the X-Box together. It’s good for family life. We get together to chew and we see the whole family.”

Khat users in Sheffield can get confidential help from their GP or from the Arundel Street Project, 92 Arundel Street, 0114 272 1481.

The full ACMD report is available

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The content on this page was added to the website by Christine Steers on 2014-01-30 15:28:25.
The content of the page was last modified by Kate Atkinson on 2014-02-01 15:34:17.

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