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May under fire for banning khat

The Home Secretary has come under fire after she defied official advisers and criminalised a plant used by Somalian communities as a stimulant.

Khat, which makes its users feel more alert, happy and talkative when chewed, is to be banned as a Class-C drug amid concerns that there was not enough evidence to allay fears of its health and social harms, Home Secretary Theresa May said.

The move comes after the Government's official adviser, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), concluded khat should not be banned.

A range of drug experts and policy campaigners condemned the Home Secretary's decision as "yet another disappointment".

Niamh Eastwood, executive director at drug policy campaigners Release, said: "Once again the Government chooses to ignore the evidence when it comes to drug policy. The ACMD recommended that khat should not be banned, and this has been ignored. There is no evidence that criminalisation has any tangible effect on the rates of drug use in a society."

Around 2,560 tonnes of khat, which is also favoured by Yemeni and Ethiopian communities, worth £13.8 million was imported to the UK in 2011/12, bringing in £2.8 million of tax revenues.

The intoxicating herb is sold in small shops and cafes in bundles worth £3 to £6 each, with most users chewing around one to two bundles in an average session lasting up to six hours. The leaves of the product contain cathinone, which has a similar but less intense effect to cocaine.

In a written statement, Mrs May said despite the ACMD's recommendation, the body acknowledged that there was an absence of robust evidence in a number of areas. She said: "The decision to bring khat under control is finely balanced and takes into account the expert scientific advice and these broader concerns."

The Home Secretary said the whole of northern Europe, most recently the Netherlands, and the majority of other EU member states have banned khat, as well as most of the G8 countries including Canada and the USA.

Mrs May said failure to take action in the UK would place the country at serious risk of becoming a single hub for the illegal onward trafficking of khat to countries where it is banned.

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