Opinion: Lib Dems only party to vote against khat drug ban

Julian Huppert, Lib Dem PPC for Cambridge“To ban, or not to ban, khat is the question”, tweeted Julian Huppert on Monday morning. Unfortunately, Labour MPs later in the day joined their Tory (and DUP) counterparts in a statutory instrument committee to vote in favour of a ban. The two Lib Dem MPs, Huppert and Greg Mulholland, were defeated 16-2 and the khat trade now looks set to be criminalised.

On The Guardian website, Julian writes:

[khat is] a mild stimulant – roughly on a par with a strong cup of coffee. It is not considered particularly addictive, and there’s no clear evidence that it causes either physical or social harms. It is imported perfectly legally, and taxes are paid on it, to the tune of £12.8m each year.

When the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the government’s expert advisors, were asked to consider khat, they said that it would be “inappropriate and disproportionate” to ban it. The cross-party home affairs select committee, on which I serve, produced a unanimous report opposing a ban. And yet the home secretary plans to do it anyway.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto said we would “Always base drugs policy on independent scientific advice” and it’s great to see this in practice. But it’s sad that Labour and the Conservatives still can’t be trusted to follow the recommendations of the expert ACMD. Khat joins a long list of ignored advice, including on the classifications of cannabis, ecstasy, and magic mushrooms.

Not only is there no clear evidence of current harms – a position Labour seemed to accept but argued that we should ban khat regardless – criminalisation brings its own harms. Julian points out that even if a ban is effective, use will simply be displaced to more harmful drugs such as alcohol; that the ban will damage relationships between police and the communities that use khat; that it will harm Kenyan farmers; and that it will cost the taxpayer and economy millions each year.

Lib Dem drugs minister, Norman Baker, apparently so disagreed with the Home Secretary’s policy that he told her “face-to-face he opposed her decision” and “flatly refused to act on it”, according to the Daily Mail, with the job being handed instead to the Organised Crime Minister, a Tory.

So I’m sad that the Conservatives and Labour are taking away one more freedom at public expense and against all sound advice. But it’s a partisan source of pride that Lib Dem MPs and Ministers remain the leading lights for liberal and rational drugs policy.

* Adam Corlett is an economic analyst and Lib Dem member

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35 Comments

  • What a legend Huppert is

  • Confused Libertarian 1st Apr '14 - 4:10pm

    How is it that something with no evidence to support it and relatively little public demand has gotten this far? Why isn’t the opposition doing its job and opposing an obviously ridiculous policy? I honestly cannot understand what’s going on here.

    Do politicians just enjoy being authoritarian?

  • Richard Dean 1st Apr '14 - 4:21pm

    One of Mrs.May’s arguments seems to be that the “evidence base available to the ACMD” was very limited, and that she is imposing the ban just in case the harms have been under-estimated.This is indeed a strange argument – we don’t know, so we should ban it! Her other argument seems to be that, without a ban, the UK would effectively be undermining prohibitions in the US and most of Europe. I wonder what evidence those foreign bans stem from, and why the ACMD was unable to access that evidence.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10157616/Theresa-May-bans-herbal-drug-khat-against-official-advice.html

    Of course this raises a few wider questions. Should a Home Secretary or small committee really have the power to take decisions on statutory instruments in what appears to be a highly un-democratic way? Decisions moreover which seem likely to have important negative impacts and which appear to be driven by potentially flawed decisions made by foreign (European and US) legislators?

  • But it’s sad that Labour and the Conservatives still can’t be trusted to follow the recommendations of the expert ACMD

    So do you think the recommendations of the ‘expert ACMD’ should always be followed?

    In which case, what is the point of having Parliament at all? Just establish the proper panels of experts and let them get on with running the country. Right?

    The technocrat’s dream.

  • Tony Dawson 1st Apr '14 - 6:43pm

    @Richard Dean:

    “One of Mrs.May’s arguments seems to be that the “evidence base available to the ACMD” was very limited, and that she is imposing the ban just in case the harms have been under-estimated.This is indeed a strange argument – we don’t know, so we should ban it!”

    I think that the advice which has been reported to date on the potential harmfulness of Teresa May (and why not throw in Michael Gove, Eric Pickles and Andrew Lansley while we’re at it?) is quite possibly understating the threat which she poses to decent life in the UK and perhaps we should ban her, just to be on the safe side?

    Is St Helena vacant for a decade or two? 😉

  • Members of the Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Journalists, Lib Dem MPs have not spoken to or spent much time with the unrepresented UK communities who would benefit from the banning/not banning of khat. As a member of this voiceless community I can say an overwhelming majority of the affected communities support the banning of the khat because they have helplessly watched their own lifes or a close member of their family’s life go to waste due to the misuse & abuse of khat.
    These communities are rightly worried about the future of their children if khat remains legal, ACMD/Lib Dems and the wider public should also be worried too after all they are part of Britain’s future. Members of the Lib Dem party & the ACMD need to go & spend some time with these affected communities in order to witness & get a first hand experience of the shattered dreams, families ripped apart, young lifes with the potential to go on to achieve great things failing to do so purely because of khat misuse then they would understand the pain, agony, devestation & abandonment these communities feel as a result of their decision.

  • What is this rush to ban everything or tax it to the hilt a ban is unenforcable madness by way I only know of this substance from reading this post an follow up research So good on LibDems NOT voting to ban

  • Omar Ganacsade 1st Apr '14 - 7:08pm

    I am sending my best wishes and congratulations to the U.K Parliament, the British home secretary Mrs. May, the unsung heroes of Somali activists, the U.K Authority and all those who campaigned for the illegalization of this green poison called Khat.

    I couldn’t be happier than this. Today is a great day for the Horn of Africa communities in the U.K and in many countries in Europe. It is a day to celebrate.

    I am not a user of Khat nor does it affect me directly or to my household, but it crippled the well beings of many people in this country and elsewhere. I say Kudos to this.

    The coalition government led by conservative was not my favorite ruling part and I’ve never liked them at all nor have I ever voted for them, but this time around I may change my mind.

    I am delighted that the common sense prevailed over the opportunists’ tireless campaign against the ban.

    Big thanks to all of you who made this possible.

    Celebrations and congratulations

  • Stuart Mitchell 1st Apr '14 - 7:33pm

    I agree with Tim. Advisory committees are there to advise, not make the decisions. I would expect the government to consider such advice carefully but not be bound by it.

    This is not to say I support the government’s decision – I know nothing about khat and have no interest in finding out – but the argument put forward in this article is a very poor one. I also get more than a little irritated when Huppert and other Lib Dems boast about their “evidence-based” credentials, when in fact they are just as likely to cherry-pick evidence to fit a preconceived view as anybody else.

  • Richard Dean 1st Apr '14 - 7:40pm

    Strangely, I agree with Stuart and Tim on this one. Huppert’s case seems just as baseless as May’s. More scientific and other relevant evidence should have been gathered and widely discussed before a decision was made.

  • A surprising number of people don’t seem to have got the hang of this liberalism thing. The way it works is this. Unless you can show a very good reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to do something, then you allow them to do it.

    It’s a bit like the presumption of innocence. For liberals, the burden of proof can never be on those who want to let people do what they want. It has to be on those who want to stop people doing what they want.

  • NASSAR ALABSI 1st Apr '14 - 9:26pm

    this is so sad, khat has always been part of my social life, I can’t believe how this cause damaged to society more than alcohol does… It’s a shame on both parties and I think lib dim won a voice today.

  • Adam Corlett 1st Apr '14 - 10:39pm

    I somewhat agree with you, Tim and Stuart, and I’d hope for a bolder stance in the next LD manifesto. But for me the point about following the expert advice is largely about the classification of drugs, which is intended to be a technical matter based on their harms – particularly to help establish trust in those classifications – rather than about the broader choice of drugs policy framework. Following the advisory council also helps avoid the risk that media hysteria and populism can lead to the unnecessary criminalisation of minority activities.

    Because I very much agree with Chris. And I think the ACMD is better at judging whether something is ‘harmful’ than whether it’s sufficiently harmful to warrant criminalisation – so I wouldn’t put blind faith in its advice. But when even they say – and not for the first time – that there’s no evidence of significant harm and that a ban would be “inappropriate and disproportionate”, that should put any discussion of a ban to rest immediately.

  • I also get more than a little irritated when Huppert and other Lib Dems boast about their “evidence-based” credentials, when in fact they are just as likely to cherry-pick evidence to fit a preconceived view as anybody else

    More to the point, all ‘evidence’ can tell you is what actions might have which outcomes.

    The point of electing people is that they can then weigh the outcomes and decide what kind of country we want to be. But that it not a question of evidence; it is a question of values.

    Evidence is like an accurate map. It tells you how to get places, but it cannot tell you where you should be trying to go.

    Case in point:

    A surprising number of people don’t seem to have got the hang of this liberalism thing

    The majority of the British population, in fact, are not liberals. And as we are a democracy, that means that policy is not decided on the basis of what would be the most liberal thing to do, as the majority of people do not want the country to be as liberal as possible: they value other things more than liberalism.

    If the Labour and Tory members of the committee, after considering the experts’ report on what the consequences of their votes would be, voted in a way that reflects the values of majority of those voters who put them in Parliament, then they voted correctly. That is what democracy — the other half of your party’s name, remember? — means.

  • Tim

    Obviously I was talking about what would be the right thing to do for a liberal politician, not an authoritarian politician. Sorry if I confused you there.

    Oh, and it’s not my party any more. I’m just a liberal with a small ‘l’ these days.

  • I have read that the UK was the only country in Western Europe not to have already banned it. (That also suggests that if the EU had powers over drug laws it would have been banned Europe-wide.)

  • Obviously I was talking about what would be the right thing to do for a liberal politician, not an authoritarian politician. Sorry if I confused you there

    But the article says the liberal politician did vote in favour of the ban, and the non-liberal ones didn’t. So what did you mean by, ‘A surprising number of people don’t seem to have got the hang of this liberalism thing’?

    The liberal voted according to liberalism; the non-liberals not according to liberalism. It seems to me everybody had therefore got the hang of liberalism, it’s just some of them agree with it and some don’t (in, it seems, roughly the proportion in which the British public agree with liberalism, so hey, democracy at work).

  • Banning Khat in the UK is a type of racial profiling to targeting for the minority groups like Somalis who mostly don’t drink but socialize and enjoy chewing this Khat which grows in Kenya. As proofed alcohol based drinks are more potent drug than Khat and it is legal in UK . Banning Khat will cause social problems in the community and many of the users may try to get other thinks to socialize like drugs and alcohol.

  • “But the article says the liberal politician did vote in favour of the ban, and the non-liberal ones didn’t”

    No – it was the other way round!

    If it helps, the comment that seems to be puzzling you so much was directed at those who were criticising the Lib Dems for opposing the ban …

  • Mohamed Farax 2nd Apr '14 - 1:51pm

    It is sad day for Britain, when Labour and Conservatives conspire to bring in institutionalized racist policy that targets
    communities deemed not be real British, a second class citizen is what I and many who khat users are today in this country.This policy does not much differ than the Taliban decreeing the minority Hindus to wear yellow clothes so they
    can be outed and discriminated upon, or Dictator Mugabe targeting minority whites in Zimbabwe. Shame on Labour on the cowards they are . Khat trade will be taken over by criminals and there is no way Britain can control it due to our proximity to African and Yemen. I want thank the LimDem for their vote to change the failed policies of the past . Our country has restored the human rights of Gays and Lesbian to marry just few days ago, but turned around to trample on my human rights as British Citizen.

  • No – it was the other way round!

    Whoops.

    the comment that seems to be puzzling you so much was directed at those who were criticising the Lib Dems for opposing the ban

    I’m not sure anyone was ‘criticising the Lib Dems for opposing the ban’ so much as declaring that if the Lib Dems oppose the ban they will not be voting for them, as it is clear that the Lib Dems do not reflect their values.

    Which, again, is what democracy is for.

  • Safwan Bakais 2nd Apr '14 - 3:24pm

    The excuses used to ban the khat can only be described as pathetic.

    1- Britain becoming a traffic hub for smuggling khat to the rest of the world! who cares!, every country is free on what it bans and what it allows within ethics , Holland doesn’t care for being considered a traffic hub of cannabis to the rest of the world, nor some Americans states are concerned on what is legal or not in other states within the USA! Cannabis is legal in some states and illegal in most!!
    2- Social harm, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim, if we are to take social harm into consideration then alcohol is the worst. Alcohol is the mother of all drugs.

    Bottom line, this is unethical decision from those who voted in favour of the ban. To illustrate further, Slavery trade was legal and taxable but by no chance it can be described as ethical. The majority voting for something doesn’t always mean it is correct other wise Nazi Germany was correct because the majority wanted it that way, or wasn’t there any form of voting back then!

    This decision in favour of banning khat only goes well with the extreme Islam of Salafia, the kind of Islam that the British foreign affairs is in harmony with. The extreme Islam I mean is ,the Saudi style Islam, the one that views everyone as Kafir Yet the west is fighting the majority moderate Muslims!

    Paint it anyway you want, this law is against my human rights and I won’t give khat up because May said so!

  • As a user of khat I don’t believe khat does have impact niether harm to those who ise and their families, there is no clear evidence that show what damage khat have among those people who ise it. I think it is inappropriate and unfair to ban khat. Banning khat can create mature problems for instance people who chew are more likely to use alcohol insteaf which they did not get used to it. This is were family and police break down will come in so in my opinion I think khat shouldn’t be ban

  • This is were family and police break down will come in so in my opinion I think khat shouldn’t be ban

    Case closed, I think.

  • Chris Manners 2nd Apr '14 - 10:29pm

    Here’s Huppert again, putting the progressive face on the party!

    Don’t worry, we liberals haven’t forgotted Jeremy Browne at the Home Office.

  • Well done lib Dem you got my vote

  • For those who don’t know that pls don’t make comments of support. Do you know the amount of young offenders in prison as a result of poor care form their parent who chew the drug. According to my 20 yrs using experience Khat should ban it put my Somali community behind.

  • Remember again, for my experience KHAT is class A drug. For who just like make the political comments Pls go and try first the an give the answer.

  • Respect to Lib Dim .. Who I will give my vote to.
    Silly …. Silly …. And petty from being major issue to discuss .
    However, Lib Dim just did the right thing for the country considering the amount of job losses that would occurs
    If ban took place, in addition to the loss of , so called, gulf torrism industry in UK.
    Believing or not a lot of gulf people travel to London on their holidays to chew khat.

  • Banning khat will not solve the problem, it will just make Somali men who chew khat angry and bitter. What they need is a health awareness campaign, followed by job opportunities. I think the problem is that Awale stopped chewing khat, congratulations brother but then he had nothing to do so used his time to campaign against khat. No one likes being told what to do, it’s dictatorial and will only create resentment and tension between the Somali community and the police. Plus, a lot of Somalis smoke which is more destructive, which should have been the first issue. Another point it that you cannot expect ethnic minorities in the UK to spend their weekends looking at walls while English people are out drinking and clubbing, soon they will get bored and join them which is more harmful for our youth. At least with khat they are inside, being friendly and not causing trouble.

  • I want this khat to banned as is affecting alot of women life it has to Be stopped as other country did.No one know s how we suffer they dont help as or care because of khat and uk they care about financial more if stopped they will go to mosque and dont listen that it will affect them their lying listen to women more as we work they dont he Sleeping Always

  • The war on drugs has failed. And even the fanatic Americans are realizing that you won’t win the war by make it a very profitable illegal business. And policies which focus on helping people with problems are far more helpful.

    So question is who are you supporting? Khat is currently from Kenya and it is in legal hands without any connection with Al Shahaab. So Al Shahaab are banning the Khat, because so long it is legal they have no gain. By banning Khat. Al Shahaab will gain a foothold to this market and more important for them the underground smuggling network will be extended. So this is a great victory for Al Shahaab.

    Further you are alienating a community, which has huge struggle with accepting legal order. They feel criminalized and treated unjustified. A compliance for the law is essential for the success of a ban. Not a good start is if they feel like Robin Hood by defying this law. Ban of Khat is a suppression of their freedom and way of life. And push them in the hands of Al Shahaab.

    This doesn’t mean that Khat is good or healthy. Nor that it isn’t causing problems. I am only stating that banning is no solution. No solution for drugs problems or any other problem. Start helping people and stop condemning them.

  • Saeed Hersi 28th Jun '14 - 2:58am

    My names Saeed Abdikarm Hersi and I’m in the United States me personally I’m glad Khad was ban even though I used to chew sometimes it is bad for your health it is bad for your financial and family well been. I saw so money men and women that went to jail because of it got divorce and so money other problems . I’m so happy that the British government banned.

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