Monday, November 28, 2005
Ban on khat possible after poll of drug's Somali users
home affairs editor
Monday November 28, 2005
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is to consider banning the chewing of khat leaves in Britain after research showed that half the Somali community want to see the drug outlawed.
The shrub, which produces feelings of euphoria, has been used for centuries in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula and is widely used by Muslim migrants from Somalia who reject alcohol. The study by Nacro, the crime reduction charity, for the Home Office showed that half of the Somali men interviewed use khat as much three times a week. The leaves are sold at around £4 a 250g (8.8oz) bunch in supermarkets in east London, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield.
The leaves are imported on regular flights from Africa as they remain potent for only 36 hours after being picked.
In the Nacro study 49% of the 553 Somalis interviewed said they wanted to see khat made illegal and even 25% of those who regularly used the drug agreed it should be outlawed. But a substantial minority - 35% - felt that khat use helped to maintain cultural identity.
"Those who want to see it banned generally thought the Somali people would achieve more in British society, working and studying harder than they currently did with khat to distract them," said the report. "Other reasons were to protect young people specifically from khat use, to prevent harm to khat users and their families and to encourage Somali people to save money."
The study found that the most common health problems were difficulties in sleeping, loss of appetite and an urge to chew khat again.
The home secretary has asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to report by next month on whether the drug should be banned. Khat leaves are legal in Britain but their active ingredients, cathinone and cathine, are listed as class C drugs. The leaves are already banned in America, Sweden, Canada and Norway.