Somali community divided on UK criminalisation of khat

I can switch to another business but what about the youth, where are they going to go—the street, the mosque, to hard drugs?
— Mohamod Ahmed Mohamed

Mohamed supplies khat to many of Britain’s 100,000 Somalis, as well as to Ethiopians and Yemenis living here, for whom chewing the bushy shrub is as normal as going to the pub.

His growing company takes more than $780,000 in monthly revenues from the stimulant, which provides a euphoric, alert sensation. But the forklift trucks moving hundreds of boxes of khat could soon be stilled after the British government announced it would ban khat, against the advice of its own experts.

Outlawed: News of the ban, which has yet to pass through parliament, came as a shock to the communities who chew khat in Britain.

Khat, also called miraa, has been chewed for centuries in the Horn of Africa. Its psychoactive ingredients, cathinone and cathine, are similar to amphetamines but weaker, and can help chewers stay awake and talkative.

“I chew on a Friday—it’s like going to the pub,” said Mohamed.

One of his workers chimed in: “It’s not a drug. It’s like eating a salad.” Since khat must be chewed fresh, Mohamed’s is a slick operation.

Khat is flown to Heathrow from Kenya the day after it is picked; middlemen collect it from Mohamed to sell around the country and it can be in the mouths of chewers by evening. For them, khat costs from $3.90 a bundle, each one wrapped in a banana leaf.

Men chew khat in communal rooms called mafrishes, while some women chew at home.

At a mafrish near Mohamed’s warehouse, men chew and drink soft drinks, watch football and discuss events in Somalia and their jobs in London.

“I don’t go to nightclubs, I don’t want to stay home. This is my place,” said one 23-year-old chewer, who asked not to be named.

“People come here to talk about their problems. If they don’t have a place for this, they will fall into the wrong hands,” said the mafrish manager, who would only be identified as Fouad.

He worries about young people turning to radical Islam, which he said was preached by some mosques in the area.—AFP


Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May):

The government will control khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a Class C drug.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs undertook a thorough and comprehensive scientific review which focused on the medical and social harms of khat consumption.

The ACMD report gives considerable insight into the complexity of this matter and, based on the available evidence, it came to a reasonable conclusion in its recommendation to government. Although it recommended that khat should not be controlled, the ACMD acknowledges that there is an absence of robust evidence in a number of areas and that there are broader factors for the government to consider when making its decision. The decision to bring khat under control is finely balanced and takes into account the expert scientific advice and these broader concerns.