Outlawing of stimulant to help ‘rebuild families’ in Newham
11:53 02 July 2014
The decision to classify khat as a class C drug on June 24 (Tuesday) has been welcomed by health workers.
What is khat?
• Khat is a flowering plant native to mountainous areas in the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula.
• The leaves are chewed or drunk as an infusion in order to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria.
• It contains a stimulant called cathonine which has similar effects to amphetamine (Speed).
• The khat plant is also known by a variety of other names including qaat and jaad in Somalia, qat and gat in Yemen and chat in Ethiopia.
MIND in Tower Hamlets and Newham (MITHN) helps users of the plant, which has been blamed for poverty, unemployment, violence and antisocial behaviour.
Project worker for khat and substance misuse, Idriis Elmi is an ex-user who lost his job from chewing khat.
He said: “The feedback we are getting is that the majority of people have welcomed the ban, even the users, as people get trapped in a vicious circle.
“Although it is not a physical addiction, it can become a psychological dependence.”
Chewing the herbal stimulant, popular in the Horn of Africa, has long been accepted as a social pastime predominantly among the Somali male community in the UK.
However it has come under fire from critics claiming it leads to health problems and broken families.
Project worker Roukya Omar helps women affected by the drug.
She said users become tired and irritable, leading to domestic violence.
Roukya added: “It’s a really grim, dark picture that khat leaves behind. Fathers use the family finances to fuel the habit and sit down for hours to chew it so they miss out on the household tasks and are unable to get a job or education.”
Roukya said that women are also turning to the drug as a coping mechanism.
She continued: “It is definitely very big problem in Newham. The first Mafreshis were in Upton Park and Forest Gate.”
The closure of Mafreshis, or chewing houses, including London’s largest in Romford Road, marks a crucial time for khat users.
Idriis said; “There will be a minority who may still use it but the price will have tripled from Tuesday. Also law abiding elders won’t want to get involved with criminal justice.
“Getting khat is going to be difficult. When they smuggle it into the UK it is bulky and the lifespan is very short.”
Police will now issue a “Khat Warning” to first time offenders caught chewing it.
Those caught in possession could face a £60 fine and suppliers face a 14 year prison sentence, unlimited financial penalty or both.
The plant is illegal in most other European countries as well as America and Canada.
Indriis said: “Everyone in the community is trying to get their loved ones back to reclaim their dignity and rebuild relationships.
“As the Somali community is mainly Muslim, Ramadan will give people a good opportunity to stop.”