View attachment 15847 This plant, popular among East Africans in UK, may be responsible for scores of deaths and social problems
Outlawed in the United States and declared an addictive drug by the U.N. World Health Organization, khat remains a legal and cherished pastime in Kenya.
It's a popular with Britain's Ethiopian and Somali communities but there is growing concern over the use of the stimulant Khat which is illegal in North America, Canada and most of Europe but is still legal to trade and use it here.
It has been claimed that in 2009 there were 16 Khat related deaths causing a growing concern amongst politicians and the Somali community about the side affects of chewing on the drug, native to the East African region.
So the question is why is the drug still legal in Britain? Home Office spokesperson Richard Mullins told The Voice:
"The government recognises that there is a great concern in the communities affected by Khat yet it has to take advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) before they can put a proposal forward for control of Khat before Parliament and up till now it has been their view that Khat should remain a Class C drug."
Back in 2006 the Home Office Minister responsible for drugs- MP Caroline Flint- made no attempt to nip the problem in the bud. In a written Parliamentary answer on February 27 of the same year she told MP David Davies that:
‘The national drug treatment monitoring system shows that 141 people in England reported to treatment services with khat as their main drug of use, and 9 persons reported with it as their secondary drug of use between April 2004 and December 2005, which makes khat of minor importance in the drug treatment area’.
However Abuka Awale, a community engagement officer for Copland College in Brent, north London, who is an former khat addict and leader of the ‘Stop Khat coming to the UK’ campaign hit back arguing that there is an element of discrimination as to why the government hasn’t capped the drug in this country.
“We went there to challenge them and realised that the home office are aware but choose to ignore Khat because the fact remained that the drug is only affecting a small part of society” Says Awale.
“In March this year there was a case of two young British boys that died after using the drug Methadrone (Meow Meow). When this happened the government acted quickly and swiftly and banned the drug
“To us what this means is that as long as it’s not affecting white people they don’t care and that is clear discrimination. In our opinion we should be focusing on the evidence of medical and social harm rather than what ethnicity groups are using this drug.” He adds.
However Mullins defended the government’s lack of immediate action. Asked why Meow Meow was banned without delay and not Khat despite recorded deaths? He stated:
“I understand that on the one hand we have Meow Meow being dealt with quickly and Khat taking a much longer root and still not finalised. We cannot expedite the process it is something the government must do in conjunction with the advisory council”.
The reason for the lack of government action may be due to the fact the opinion is divided as to the negatives of khat. Abdisalam Mohamed, a journalist with the BBC's Somali Service blames the misuse of khat rather than the drug itself.
"It is a stimulant and it stimulates the mind. You open up like a flower when you chew. You think positively and make plans for the future. It is a good way of socialising." Claims Mohamed.
According to experts Khat may have medical side affects such as: oral and gastric cancer, cerebral haemorrhage, duodenal ulcers, hypertension, testicular degeneration, low birth-weight infants, and addiction.
It seems to the anti-Khat campaigners that not enough research has been done on Khat in this country. When Norman Lamb MP asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department “What her estimate is of the number of people who have used Khat in the last 10 years?” The answer given on June 1, last year was “No annual estimates are currently made of the number of people who have used Khat.”
Though there are no official figures on how many young British people are using Khat there is no doubt that due to its affordability and accessibility the drug is becoming more popular particularly among youths.
Awale believes that the Somali community would achieve more if the drug was banned and blames the lack of action surrounding the drug as being a main contributor to the wide spread social and private problems it creates in the East African community in the UK.
He said: “I am also a Youth offending team (YOT) banner member and every week I talk with young people and there is a huge growing concern that a lot of youths even those aged between 14 and 16 are taking Khat now. Before it used to be a drug only affecting the older generation,
“It is also one of the reasons Somali children are not doing so well in school and also for absent fathers which leads to lack of support at home and also domestic violence causing women to suffer in silence so it is affecting us as a whole community.” He adds.
However though the drug is also popular among many Africans and Arabs, according to the YOT member the reason why Khat is used predominantly in the Somali community, is: “If you look back in Somali history, a lot of men used to chew it and when many Somali’s come to this country they are coming from civil war and some are likely to be mentally wounded resorting to Khat to deal with the pressure.
“Khat is a culturally accepted drug in Somalia, it is also easily available and cheap costing £2 or £3. It plays a big part in the social lives of many East Africans.” He adds.
So is Britain lagging behind in allowing Khat to be taxed and sold in the country or is Khat really not that bad?
Awale-speaking from personal experience – he was stabbed three times by a man high on Khat- says the drug is “worse then weed” and he compares it to Crack Cocaine which by law can get a person imprisoned for seven years for consumption and life for dealing.
There are two main types of Khat, mirra and hereri. In the late 1990’s there was no more then 10 tonnes of Khat being imported into Britain every year. Now it is has multiplied to 10,000 tonnes with around seven tonnes arriving at Heathrow airport every week.
In America, Khat sells for 10 times its UK price with highly organised gangs in Britain making £150 m a year smuggling the drug into the States.
However in Britain Khat can be bought legally from places such as Paddington Market and Edgware Road in London. It's popular among Britain's Somali community, and around 90 percent of Somali men reportedly chew the leaves on a regular bases.
Despite the mental, physical and social consequences of using khat, the government has not speeded up the decision making process on banning the drug, an ACMD press spokesperson told The Voice:
“The government is committed to addressing any form of substance misuse and we will keep the issue of Khat under close scrutiny.”