The debate and guessing is finally over. As of the 24th June 2014 the British government has decided to make Khat an illegal Class C drug. Anyone caught importing it, personally using it or supplying it will risk criminal prosecution. For a Class C drug, which Khat will be, there is the possibility of 14 years imprisonment for supplying, an unlimited fine or even both.
A Home Office fact sheets even warns, “Supplying Khat to your friends, even if you give it away, is also considered ‘supplying’ under the law.” Those not supplying and using it personally, if caught will be fined £60 alongside a warning for the first possession offence. If caught for the third time, an offender can and will face arrest.
A Home Office spokesperson said recently in response to the Khat ban:
"Drug misuse has a serious impact on society and the ban on khat will help protect vulnerable members of our community.
"It will also prevent the UK from becoming a single regional hub for criminals trying to make a profit, as countries across Europe have already implemented the same ban.
"Parliament has now approved the government's decision and khat will become a class C drug on June 24, 2014."
From the Home Office facts sheet it is clear that the use of Khat and not Khat itself, is causing harm in communities in the UK. The fear of the UK becoming one of the only export hubs into other developed nations which have already banned it is given great consideration.
Many in the Somali community welcome the ban but they are worried that the services needed to support former Khat users and sellers to start afresh may not be available or easy to identify where they do.
“Khat will be a criminal offence and the community really needs to take it seriously,” said Yusuf Salah a community activist in Bristol who has worked with Khat users in his past role as a mental health advocate. “They need information, access to treatment and a joined up approach from government in which to address this matter holistically.”
Abukar Awale, a former user and one of the leading figures in the campaign for the UK Khat ban welcomed it with open arms. He insist that the substance is psychologically damaging and addictive and one of the barriers to integration for a large number of Somali users in the country.
Abukar Awale, lead anti Khat campaigner
"Availability of khat and the legality of khat is attracting more young people," Abukar Awale said. "By banning it we are preventing young people from failing in society. We are also supporting families and communities to grow and thrive in every way if they receive the required support from public service after the ban.”
While the plight of the Kenyan farmers and their threats of violence against British interests in Kenya if Khat is banned has been widely publicised, little thought has been given to the livelihoods of Khat sellers who will no longer be able to trade legally after the 24th June according traders. At a local meeting in Bristol, UK, organized by the Bristol Somali Forum, a coordinating body of Somali groups in the city, Khalil Abdi a community activist and Chairman of Elays Development Group made this point bluntly in his speech.
“The Khat ban is welcome. It is a step in the right direction but former Khat chewers and sellers are impacted. The entire discussions up to now have been about the former and not the latter,” he said. “Khat sellers need to be supported in diversifying their business and with access to training, education and loans to establish new businesses.”
“It is not fair or right to say that’s it stop now or else. People need support to stop and create new businesses,” said another participant at the local meeting.
Mohammed, a Mafrish owner who does not want his real name disclosed, has operated from his small shop in West London since arriving in the UK as a refugee in 2000. He has around 100 regular customers weekly and after the ban comes in he will have to close his business and seek employment in other areas in the labour market. This worries him for many reasons.
“Since coming to the UK I am self-employed and have no education or job. Now I have to do both of them and I am 52 years of age. I am very scared,” Mohammed stated frankly. “My wife is very happy though and looking forward to me staying home more and helping with children.”
The Khat ban debate which has gone on for the best part of a year since the British government first announced it is now coming to an end. The date is fixed and the Somalis in the UK, whatever their views on the issue, do not know what to expect. The only certainty is that as of the 24th June 2014 using Khat or supplying it will be a criminal offence.
HOL English News Desk