Opinion: we must force the Tories to follow the evidence on khat

I feel sorry for the Academic Council on the Misuse of Drugs. It’s this panel of drug experts’ task to try and inject some sense into our country’s failing drug policy. Sadly, in the latter years of New Labour’s reign, it became the default option to ignore their advice on drug classification. On magic mushrooms, then on cannabis and then again on ecstasy, Labour couldn’t resist ignoring the ACMD, opting instead for populist posturing in an attempt to appear ‘tough’.

The Labour government’s unscientific urges on drug classification were deeply frustrating to Liberal Democrats, and this led us to a 2010 manifesto commitment to “always base drugs policy on independent scientific advice”. It’s now time for us to step up to the mark.

On Wednesday, the ACMD published a report on khat, a currently-legal leaf that induces a mild stimulant effect when chewed, and has strong cultural bonds with the Somali community in Britain. Since there is no evidence that khat causes any significant harm, the ACMD has recommended that the government refrains from prohibiting it.

This isn’t the first time that khat’s relative harmlessness has been noted. The ACMD had already reviewed khat in 2005, coming to the same conclusion. In a separate independent scientific comparison of twenty drugs, khat came out as the least dangerous (heroin came out top, alcohol fifth, cannabis eleventh).

Nevertheless, several of our Conservative colleagues have shown they are looking to make another populist gesture on drugs policy. Baroness Warsi pledged a ban back in 2008, Chris Grayling backed a ban in 2009, and backbencher Mark Lancaster has been keen to nag the current government to ban the drug.

There’s only one hurdle to the Conservatives continuing Labour’s miserable approach. It’s their Coalition partners. That would be the Liberal Democrats.

Our minister in the Home Office is Jeremy Browne, who has taken responsibility for drugs policy as part of his brief. I expect him to be doing everything he can to ensure his department keeps to the ACMD’s expert advice.

We must also consider the effect that a khat ban will have on the Somali community. Alcohol, by all accounts a far more dangerous and addictive drug than khat, is given special treatment by the government because of its prevalence in our culture. The award-winning documentary The House I Live In (available now on BBC iPlayer) demonstrates how targeting the culture of a smaller black community is oppressive, discriminatory and completely illiberal.

Last month Nick Clegg became the first ever serving member of a British government to say that a new approach towards drugs is needed. Heeding the ACMD’s advice on khat would be a fantastic start.

* Duncan Stott is a Lib Dem member in Oxford.

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  • Looks like the… khat’s… out of the bag.

    ; )

  • Yemeni community in addition to Somalis. A real problem in the Middle East this, where the Saudi Government has a very strict ban on the use of qat. It is widely used socially in Yemen, and so many Yemeni expat workers in Saudi have found themselves in big trouble.

  • What’s more interesting about The House I Live In is the history of prohibition it describes. Opium was prohibited when it was associated with Chinese west coast immigrants. Marijuana was prohibited when it was associated with Mexican immigrants. Khat is fairly unique in that history in that it’s use is not also established in the general culture. It would be a law that would probably only give Somalians criminal records. If its use is a concern to politicians they need to encourage the Somalian community to engage with health services when appropriate and educate that community on the recognition of the impacts khat might have on their working or family life. Good job Duncan 🙂

  • Abukar Awale 25th Jan '13 - 12:13pm

    We have been campaigning last 7 year to secure a ban on the drug Khat has been dealt a blow this week, as the Drugs Council have failed to recommend that the drug become illegal.

    ‘Having provided a great deal of evidence of the damage …this drug wreaks on minority communities, iIt is such a shame that the ACMD have decided not to recommend a ban to the Government. I appreciate that their main thrust seems to have been on the medical impact, but I am not convinced they have taken significantly into account the adverse impact that the culture surrounding the drug is having on communities.”

    “Ultimately however this is just a recommendation to Government and we are hopeful that the Home Secretary will take more than just the medical concerns into account and follow other leading nations in banning Khat.”

    This announcement is a particular disappointment as Government minister Sayeeda Warsi recently backed a ban, stating in the Telegraph, ‘we would not legitimise marijuana to please the Rasta community, so why do that with Khat?’

    The leafy green plant is chewed for hours to achieve its potent hallucinatory effects.

    The report’s key findings state that whilst there was some association of significant liver toxicity, the ACMD said that the evidence of harms associated with the use of Khat was insufficient to justify control.

    We have to also remember ACMD has recommended total ban in 2010 similar drug namely (miaw_miaw) although this drug is processed from khat plant it truly shocking ACMD can recommend 2 different recommendations with very much same drugs for the ACMD it is not about the evidence os harm it is about the affected community.

    is there a question discrimination is it about the evidence or the ethnicity of users . one thing is for sure we will not give up the fight .See more.

    there is much eidence of death see the link ,


  • Richard Dean 25th Jan '13 - 12:30pm

    The House I Live In presents just one of several possible interpretations of prohibition.

    Another interpretation would be that people observed what they thought was harm that opium does tp anyone, not just Chinese – after all, it was available to everyone – and wanted to ban it, specially for their impressionable sons and daughters. By chance, the Chinese happened to be the main users at the time, and didn’t have the political clout to prevent a ban

    Again, people observed what they thought was harm that marijuana does tp anyone, not just Mexicans- after all, it was available to everyone – and wanted to ban it. By chance, Mexicans happened to be mainly affected, and didn’t have …

    Again, people observed what they thought was harm that the over-the-counter heroin and cocaine products could do, and wanted …

    Again. people observe what they think I harm that Khat does, and certainly don’t want their children trying it, so the want to ban it. By chance, Somalis happen to chew it a lot – should we Libdems provide them with political clout to resist what would be a ban on everyone, not just Somalis?

    One may argue about whether actual harm is done or not, but an equally believable interpretation would be that those people on the House I Live In were looking for sinister plots that could prove they were clever. Perhaps after all the main aim has always been to protect people in general.

  • It’s the “Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs” not the “Academic Council on the Misuse of Drugs”. What this country needs is outcome based policy. Just like the drinkers have. If a drug user is no harm to themselves or others they should never face criminal sanctions or government intervention. Many drug users get a raw deal. This needs to change.

  • @Abukar, I don’t dispute that drugs can cause problems within communities. It doesn’t automatically follow that those drugs should therefore be prohibited outright. Alcohol causes problems with violence, anti-social behaviour, addiction and liver disease, but we don’t ban alcohol, instead we try to regulate it to minimise the harm it can cause.

    You say it has potent hallucinatory effects. My understanding of the neuropharmacology is that its effects are relatively mild and it is more of a stimulant than a hallucinogen. That’s certainly what the ACMD reports indicate.

    While khat does contain cathinones similar to mephedrone (which the tabloid press labelled “miaow miaow”), it is found in low concentrations in the khat plant, rather than the pure powder (or not so pure now that mephedrone is now supplied by criminals). Comparing khat to mephedrone is like comparing opium poppies to heroin. And since you mention it, mephedrone use has increased since its ban in 2010. Prohibition provides no guarantee of reduced use.

    The point about minority communities is that their drugs of choice are treated differently to alcohol, the drug of the cultural majority, even though alcohol is more dangerous. I’m asking for all communities to be treated equally and consistently.

    @Nik, my mistake, thank you for the correction.

  • No problem. Here’s something that may interest you. http://www.drugequality.org/

  • Abukar Awale 25th Jan '13 - 2:53pm

    @ Duncan, I would say to you please don’t kill as with your kindness, yes it Somali habit not culture, and even if I agree with you we are trying to intergrade to wider society rather then isolated from society because of khat.
    the other point is if great Brittan is so tolerant to other ethnic minority and their choice of drug then lets allow Rastafarian weed and bobby for Afghanistan’s, equal opportunity’s for all.
    Please we need to respect the voiceless coming from the affected community we have submitted over 72.000 petitions to get government to do review and ACMD rejection is noting but political move rather then evidence based.
    We are community who came from dictatorial background once the government says khat is ban. Many will stay away from it.
    At the moment Legality off khat is sending wrong massage to young people it is legal it must be save which is far from the truth .

    We hope the will The government will khat inline with the rest of EU country’s.

  • Abukar Awale 25th Jan '13 - 2:57pm

    @ Duncan, We hope the goverment will ban khat , inline with the rest of EU country’s.

  • Ban the khat it is bad drug , mostly Europian Countries know about it , Uk don this Khat to respect Kenya Government but it doesn’t respect their people , adipting drug day by day

  • Thank you Duncan for writing a sensible article on Khat and I agree that the government should follow the recommendation of the report.

    I’m a member of the Yemeni community and have been using khat regularly for over 20 years now. I know many people who regularly use it in this country and in Yemen and do not know of a single incident where khat has caused any harm.

    Abubakr, we are starting to get sick of you speaking as though you are doing it on behalf of the greater majority if the community – the fact is that the khat supporters are the majority in your community and mine and you know it!

    If you genuinely cared about your community you would campaign against something like tobacco or alcohol – more Somalis smoke cigarettes than chew khat, there is a lot of science linking smoking with cancer -so why don’t you focus your efforts on that first?

    Or is it that khat campaigning against khat makes you feel important!

    We will now start to make our voice heard and we will drown out your stupid argument that it is discrimination – look up the definition in a dictionary, because banning it would be discrimination

  • From my experience Khat is very bad drug poisonous destroyer addictive and dangerous it should banned for ever because it is no good for the country for the community for the society Khat destroyed the whole somali community we all the victims of Khat we been suffering long time now is the time to stop killing us softly and ban and make illegal. British government shoul and would listen to the elders mothers whole community crying for help want to safe them and their beloved ones from the poisonous kha. Somali community are British as long they live britain and they got the same value as othet communities why British government let us down why goverment dont want to help us we want our voices to be heard Stop khat ban it. Stop killing us softly . Safe our community please and please.

  • From my experience I had been chewing nearly 15 years i can call my self expert of khatand its effects is poisonous staff it harms mentally and physically Khat is destroying Somali community we have had enough of khat now is time to make it illegal to ban it. British government should respect The mothers wifes daughters who are crying for help to stop khat because they are the victims of the khat they lost sons husbands wa strongly recommend to the British government to stand shoulder to shoulder somali community and stop khat ones an for all.

  • Thank you Duncan Scott for you article, the vast majority of the Yemeni and Somoli communities would agree with you..
    Khat has been part of the yemeni community for decades in Britain. Khat has never harmed anybody i know. There has never been any evidence of khat causing mental health problems.
    The people I chew khat with are educated and hold good jobs.
    We chew khat once a week on a saturday and don’t cause any nuisance to anyone.
    -Abo Bakr there are bigger issues that are harming communities like alcohol abuse and the use of cannabis amoungst the younger generation of our communities. Unemployemt in our communities is not linked to khat. Our communites often live in an area where unemployment is naturally high, however its up to the individual to do something about it and not blame it on Khat.
    There is no evidence for anything you are saying and you are clearly taking this personal.
    You must base any argument on fact and you have no facts.
    Please stop pretending that you are advocating on behalf of the Yemeni and Somoli communities, because the truth is the vast majority of both communties would like Khat to stay.
    It might be that few people you know abuse Khat by chewing it everyday and it has effected them.
    If this is the case, you must remember to tell yourself that too much of anything is bad for you!!!

  • Badee Abdulla 26th Jan '13 - 2:41pm

    It is this kind of scaremongering from the likes of Abukar Awali and Abubakr that gives khat a bad name – please stop killing us with your kindness, it is poisonous, mothers are crying etc….

    I’m also a khat user and strongly agree with Hasan and Mohammed, but have a few more points to raise.

    @Abukar, you say you had a petition of 72,000 people. Are these people who know and have used khat? or are they well intentioned people who you mislead by your comments that are designed to make them feel guilty?
    Did you tell your signatories what the alternative to khat is? If khat is banned you know very well that a significant number of people will turn to alcohol and drugs – that’s OK is it? or did you conveniently forget that bit when asking them to sign?
    In 2001 the UK Census counted only 43,515 Somalis living in the UK (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/uk/05/born_abroad/countries/html/somalia.stm), so if you had as many signatures as you claim, there should be no one left to buy khat – problem solved.

    @Abubakar on the one hand we have some of the best educated people in the land at the ACMD who have done a lot of scientific research on khat and have come to the conclusion that it is not harmful at all, and on the other hand we have your comment that it is poisonous and causes mental and PHYSICAL harm. Tell me Abubakar, how is it that you’ve been taking a poison on a regular basis, for 15 years according to your testimony, yet your are still alive? It’s not a very good poison is it?!! Who are you trying to fool? That comment is nothing but a joke.

    And finally, I feel very insulted by Abukar Alawi’s comment that we come form a dictatorial background, implying we don’t understand or deserve to be in a democracy. The ACMD report is very clear that there is little or no evidence of khat being harmful, yet Abukar is saying ignore the facts and believe me, ban it anyway – it sounds like YOU ARE THE DICTATOR to me. It just goes to show how you look down on your community and how little respect you have for them. @Abukar Alawi I look forward to your apology.

    @Duncan, thank you for your support and sorry that this has turned into a slogging match between those for and those against; but it’s time that the people hear the truth about khat and learn to base their opinion on the facts – not on baseless comments from the likes of Abukar.

  • Yasser Arafat 26th Jan '13 - 2:54pm

    I’m a British yemeni who has lived in the UK for all her life. I am also a mother and work full time. I have chewed khat on a social basis with friends and I can honestly say that i have no side effects. Those of you that don’t like it don’t chew it stay away from it,no one is forcing you to have it . Why spoil it for those people who do chew it? Cigerattes can harm you in much serious ways than khat but they are still legal. It’s up to the Individual to choose what thy do so NO I don’t believe khat should be banned I believe in the freedom of choice!

  • Zain Muqbil 26th Jan '13 - 5:52pm

    Its seems there is another voice to be heard from amongst the Yemeni community.

    Let me tell you my side of the story and I will leave you to make your own decisions.

    I grew up in a poor part of Birmingham to Yemeni parents. My mother was a permant house wife and her job was to raise the children and the upkeep of the house. My father worked tirelessly in a sawmill for over 30 years and he chewed khat on a regular basis. He was not at all the type of character that is generally associated with the khat trade. Infact the exact opposite rather than going to the pub every evening my father would stay home and chew chat. This benefited me immensely. My father was always there for me in my time of need and helped me as best he could with my studies and homework. Needless to say have had a succsefull career and I owe it to the hard effort of my parents and the blessing khat was there to hold us together.

    Finally may I add the Yemeni community have been in the U.K since 1890 and how many complaints have you had from the Yemeni family and khat? Not many I can assure you otherwise khat would have been banned long before the somalis migrated to the U.K

  • abubu wadandany 26th Jan '13 - 5:59pm

    @abukar. You are speaking about the issues of khat yet all these arguments you bring have no substance. Bring an argument with foundations. I have been chewing khat for along time and will carry on doing so. The report has been published, the facts analysed and it has been concluded by scientists and EXPERT government officialls that khat brings NO HARM and actually contributes to GROWTH in our economy. Life is full of choices my friend, i choose to chew khat, you as an individual choose to hate it, so please kind sir keep that choice to yourself.

  • Richard Dean 26th Jan '13 - 6:58pm

    I imagine that the users of all addictive drugs would use most of the arguments used here by the users of khat. Tobacco and alcohol may be worse, but two bad things don’t change a third bad thing into a good one.

    Like all drugs, khat costs money. So, unless it has some positive benefit, it will tend to keep poor users poor. Quite the opposite of what is needed for economic growth. Unless it replaces something worse, such as what Zain Muqbil tells.

  • Abukar Awale 26th Jan '13 - 10:33pm

    I can see some people who are are not happy about the campaign against k khat , for what ever the reason perhaps some of you had to much khat for the day, I am not interested personal attacks and I know we are not going to agree on this issue but don’t take my word for it but please take the time to study the evidence .


  • I am somali, I do chew when I have time for it that doesn’t mean that khat is destroying my life . Abukar I know there are lot people who abuse the habit but as duncun mentioned above it isn’t good reason to be banned . Lets ban khat in our own country before we ban in uk

  • Badee Abdulla 28th Jan '13 - 12:50pm

    The ACMD was compiled by:
    Dr Hew Mathewson, CBE
    Professor Fabrizio Schifano, Psychiatrist Chair in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Hertfordshire
    Professor Harry Sumnall Professor in Substance Use Centre for Public Health Liverpool John Moores University

    And their findings on khat were:
    “In summary, the evidence shows that khat has no direct causal link to adverse medical effects, other than a small number of reports of an association between khat use and significant liver toxicity.
    Our recommendations are based on a rigorous and systematic process of evidence gathering and subsequent analysis of what was submitted and presented to the ACMD. ”

    Is anyone here claiming that they are more qualified than these people? because some comments are implying that these people do not know what they are talking about.

    In their report they also recommend that the khat using communities get extra support with issues to support integration and deal with inequalities in health which is a good thing – but please blaming khat as the sole factor for the problems that our communities face.

  • Badee Abdulla 28th Jan '13 - 1:00pm

    * please STOP blaming khat as the sole factor for the problems that our communities face.

  • Richard Dean 28th Jan '13 - 10:25pm

    What are the problems that your community face?

    And if khat is one of the problems, why not start solving your communities problems by banning it? That would at least give your community one less problem to solve!

  • Zaynab abdala 29th Jan '13 - 12:15pm

    I am Yemeni woman, and also a mother of 5, my husband is khat user and he is useless in all aria , he doesn’t work ,he is always sleeping during the day and away all night , there is BIG problem in my town in Sheffield I know many mothers from same Yemeni community who is crying, khat has destroyed our Husband and our marriage , I hope British government BANS khat, I pray every day for that.

  • Why anyone with sense would ban such wonderful drug like Khat??
    I’m a party goer and let me tell you something since I discovered khat. I dropped chemicals from my recreational drug list. seriously it should be used to cure addiction. it has no side effects no body harm, it helps lose weight and control your diet, it even helps doing your job 100 better. and the best cure for hangover. it actually cures all illness.

    I’m sure banning it will cause more problems and will make the poor even poorer as it will start be gown illegally like weed. or will smugglers will find their way to bring it in.

  • I am from Yemen. I have been chewing khat since I was 14. After a hard week working in the shop I like to spend Saturday’s with friends chewing khat. We discuss social issues, have a laugh and discuss life in general. We don’t become intoxicated or fight or lose our sense of reality or hallucinate. Khat is a stimulant, but not like ecstacy or cocaine, it’e stronger than coffee for sure but doesn’t make you drunk or as high as smoking weed. It’s not a synthetic either, it’s an organic plant , with little harm. Chewing it everyday will probably take up all your time and mean you’ll feel tired in the mornings, but then again so will staying up late every night playing video games.

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