The Moronic Ban on Khat

It will come as little surprise to British readers that the UK government is to introduce yet another pointless, damaging and downright stupid ban on another safe drug. We’ve been here many times before, and the procedure is standard.

The target this time is khat, a plant with mild stimulant properties, popular among East African communities – which, in British cities, means the ban will primarily affect Somalis. It should go without saying that the government, as ever, ignored advice from its own drugs experts, who announced in January that there was insufficient evidence of harm to society or to the users’ health.

The reason given for the ban by Home Secretary Teresa May was even more astoundingly stupid than the standard “drugs are bad” mantras usually given. She said that it wasn’t clear whether khat was being re-exported from the UK to other countries where the drug is banned. Or in other words, because states like France have already banned the substance for no apparent reason, Britain will too.

Khat is consumed in Somali cafes in London, just as another habit-forming stimulant, coffee, is drunk in Starbucks and Costa Coffee chains; except that, unlike caffeine (which is responsible for some sleep problems among its users), khat’s active ingredient quickly leaves the body after consumption, leaving no ill effects.

The main effects of the ban will be that African farmers will lose a valuable export market, and British-based East Africans will lose their stimulant of choice. A black market will of course develop, prices will rise, and some khat users will switch to other, possibly more harmful drugs.

Why do these moronic bans happen? With the Metropolitan Police already reported to be out of control, and still riddled with racism, this gives police a new excuse to pick on Somalis, just as they have long exploited cannabis prohibition to pick on West Indians. It gives a thumbs-up to the alcohol and coffee industries, who maintain their “government approved drug of choice” status.

Khat is not just a drug: just as with previously banned safe substances (far safer than tobacco and alcohol, at any rate) – cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms and mephedrone – it represents a subculture. Like all these other drugs bans, the prohibition on khat represents the action of small-minded bullies in authority who seem to enjoy stamping out niche cultures, just as disturbed teenagers enjoy torturing animals. Bullied at school? Why not join the Home Office and get paid to attack people who seem to be enjoying life more than you? Or join the Labservative party, become a Minister, and get your revenge on the cool kids?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the New Zealand government has done something astonishing: it has introduced a sensible way to regulate recreational drugs. The policy is so blindingly obvious that the British government could never have thought of it: the drugs industry will be allowed sell substances so long as they can demonstrate they are safe. This puts the onus (and the cost) onto the drugs suppliers. In turn, users will be given the choice of safer, legal drugs, and consumption of more dangerous substances will diminish.

And while the New Zealand government shows concern for the health of its citizens, at least five British people have died from consuming pills falsely sold as ecstasy. This is the price of moronic drug laws: users cannot buy a clean supply of a safe drug, and end up taking something different instead. It’s time for drugs sanity; but sadly Britain is determined to be a follower, not a leader.