PEOPLE dependent on khat will have to make preparations to stop using it after the government announced it is banning the drug, a charity has warned.
Khat is a plant that is chewed to provide a natural stimulant and is widely used in Brent and Harrow, particularly among men in the Somali community.
Home secretary Theresa May announced last week that khat – which is usually imported from African and Middle Eastern countries and sold in bundles costing about £4 – will be classified as a class C drug, making its use and selling it a criminal offence.
Harbi Farah, director of the Help Somalia Foundation, said: “We are going to hold a meeting to discuss the impact the ban will have and how we will prepare with residents.
“It is good news but we want to prepare. The people who are dependant on the drug will need some sort of support as well as employment and education. We don’t want to criminalise locals, we want them to know what to do.”
The news of the ban has received a mixed reaction from the community.
Hussein Hersi, development manager at the Red Sea Community Programme which helps Somali refugees from its base at Unity Centre, Church Road, Harlesden, said the planned changes to legislation will make criminals of many people in the community.
Mr Hersi said: “I don’t think it is in the interest of the Somali people in general because it will criminalise many people who will use it for social purposes. People do abuse it, like alcohol, and use it to excess but this is a very small percentage.
“It is culturally acceptable and it will have a negative effect on the cultural and social fabric of the Somali community. The first thing people do when there is an engagement is get together and chew khat and if there is a problem within the community everyone gets together and chews khat.”
Mr Hersi said many shopkeepers who sell khat will see their livelihoods suffer also.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) reviewed use of the drug and advised against classifying it, but the government went against this advice to be in line with the all of northern Europe, Canada and the USA, which have already banned the drug.
Theresa May said: “Khat continues to feature prominently among the health and social harms, such as low attainment and family breakdown, cited by affected communities and the police and local authorities working with them. The ACMD acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to enable the ACMD to advise if khat use was a cause or a symptom of social harms.”
The Home Office said penalties for possession would be similar to those for cannabis and would be dependant on the quantity.
n What do you think about the announcement? Are you a khat user or someone who is affected by use of the drug? Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org or see page 2 for our postal address.