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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

'Is That Khat Dead?'
Saturday 6th July 2013

I keep finding new reasons for being angry about the UK government’s decision, announced by Home Secretary. Theresa May, to schedule Catha edulis, khat, as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

I’m not angry at the decision itself. I’m just frustrated that we are still governed by people who think their prejudices trump all the available evidence. Theresa May still believes that prohibition works. You can’t get angry about that, well you can but it doesn’t achieve very much, because if someone is blind to all the reasoned arguments that show that prohibition makes the harm caused by psychoactive substances worse there’s little that can be done to change their view.

What I’m angry about is that I still don’t know why khat has been scheduled. I know what the ministerial statement says but those arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. And I know what has been leaked as the ‘real reason’ for this decision but that is also complete nonsense.

I can make three guesses at what is really behind this move. The first is that the Conservatives said, before the 2010 election, that khat should be scheduled. Now, governments often say that once in power they find out things that make them change their mind about what they’d promised in opposition so May had plenty of precedent for taking the advice of the ACMD and not changing the status of khat. But, by sticking to the promise, May could be sending a message to the Tory party that she can be trusted to deliver its agenda. Plenty of people say she has ambitions to lead the party. So, the classification of Catha edulis may be to assist May’s political progression.

Then there is the announcement, the day after the statement about khat, that she would accept the ACMD’s recommendation to make foil available to injecting drug users because the evidence says this reduces the transmission of disease and helps some people to enter treatment for problem drug use. It may be that she thought two decisions that could be spun by the Hitchens, Gyngell, Phillips cabal as showing she was ‘soft on drugs’ was too much of a risk to take so she was happy to sacrifice the immigrant communities to stave off criticism.

Or, it could be, as some have suspected, that the USA demanded this ban. It is quite widely believed that the USA was critical of the UK’s tolerance of khat chewing and felt Heathrow was being used as a transit post for smuggling. We’ll probably never know, unless some future Edward Snowden spills the beans, but ‘reading the runes’ makes it noticeable that May didn’t say anything about the USA in her ministerial statement claiming she was concerned about the UK being used as a base for smuggling. And, after having had the ACMD’s report since January, the timing of the decision, within two weeks of the G8 meeting when US and UK politicians and officials were able to meet at all levels adds to the suspicions.

So, it is clear that we haven’t been told the true reason for this decision but, rather than spend time speculating about what that true reason might be, I thought I’d make a video of me being a law-abiding citizen and disposing of the three khat plants that I’ve had growing in my sunroom for a number of years.

I hope someone will produce videos showing Somali café owners shutting up shop and joining the unemployed or Kenyan farmers going from poverty to abject poverty because the market for their main cash crop, miraa, has been removed without warning.

In the video, I said I would take the plant remains to the ‘tip’ in a couple of days but something came up that meant I would be driving passed so I bagged it up

Catha edulis, khat

And left it in the garden waste skip.

Catha edulis, khat

A lot of people have written interesting pieces about this decision and I’ve given links to some of them in the box, below. The Catha edulis page has a list of previous blog pieces I've written about this issue.


Written ministerial statement outlines the government's decision to ban khat.
Islamist extremists score their first political success in the UK – moderate muslims abandoned by home secretary by Dr Axel Klein
Chewing over Khat prohibition by Dr Axel Klein and others (from Jan. 2013)
Khat Evidence Briefing; scientific comparison with alcohol from the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs
More than one way to skin a cat The ISCD's David Nutt & Josh Hulbert confuse cat & khat
Ban qat? Theresa May might as well ban cats The edited version of the above from the Guardian
Khatchup The Economist looks at the reasons for the ban
Criminalising Khat users is stupid and not worthy of Government time Bristol MP condemns the announcement
Bristol Somalians angry over ban of drug Khat The BBC reports on reaction to the ban
Kenya Farmers Call on Britain to Reverse Khat Ban Reaction from Nairobi
e-petition - Stop Khat (Qat) banning proposal Someone has started an online petition
Calls for Royal Commission on drugs after banning of khat SOUTH Wales Police commissioner calls for inquiry
Guardian resources for teachers about khat


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