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Minister Norman Baker is defying an order to ban khat

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) says there is no evidence on which to justify making khat illegal, the Home Affairs committee urges a rethink, the Minister responsible for drugs is reportedly opposed to it. Blenheim’s Chief Executive, John Jolly, urges the Home Secretary “to follow the advice of the ACMD in deciding which drugs should be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act and establish a wider review of the control and regulation of alcohol, tobacco, and a wide range of currently legal and illegal substances”. Blenheim welcomes the press reports that drugs Minister Norman Baker is defying the Home Secretary Theresa May’s order to criminalise khat, a plant chewed to give users a high and used predominantly in East African immigrant communities. The Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs made a clear recommendation that khat should not be criminalised. Last week Theresa May rejected calls for a rethink from the Home Affairs Committee. It argued there was no compelling evidence the drug was harmful and police would risk ‘antagonism’ when targeting communities which use it. See below the letter from ACMD to Home Secretary; Dear Home Secretary, Thank you for your previous correspondence in which the Minister responsible for drugs requested, on behalf of Government, that the ACMD review khat, specifically concerning its societal harms. As you are aware, it was agreed with the Home Office the review was necessarily deferred due to competing work priorities. The ACMD has now completed its review and has pleasure in submitting the attached for your consideration. The ACMD has been inclusive in its gathering of the evidence to provide this comprehensive review. The ACMD recognises the concerns that have been raised around the social harms of khat and has therefore gone to lengths to ensure the various sources of this evidence have been collected. As well as peer review articles, surveys and other sources of information on social harms, the ACMD has undertaken community BME visits and has had discussions with Council leaders, as well as requesting information from Government bodies to ensure the ACMD understood, captured and addressed the relevant concerns. The ACMD last provided you with advice on khat in 2005. The ACMD‘s present assessment that you commissioned builds on the evidence base of the 2005 report, particularly societal harms. In summary, the evidence shows that khat has no direct causal link to adverse medical effects, other than a small number of reports of an association between khat use and significant liver toxicity. Some of the adverse outcomes are associated with khat use i.e. a complex interaction of khat with other factors to produce the outcome, but not directly caused by khat use. It is apparent from the evidence on societal harms that it is often difficult to disentangle whether khat is the source of community problems or, to some extent, its prevalence and use is symptomatic of the problems for some individuals and groups within the community. On the basis of the available evidence, the overwhelming majority of Council members consider that khat should not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. In summary the reason for this is that, save for the issue of liver toxicity, although there may be a correlation or association between the use of khat and various negative social indicators, it is not possible to conclude that there is any causal link. The ACMD considers that the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. In summary the ACMD considers that the harms of khat does not reach the level required for classification. Therefore, the ACMD recommend that the status of khat is not changed. We hope there will be close attention paid to the ACMD‘s further recommendations, which all have our unanimous support. It is essential that communities be supported and given the appropriate resource and environment within which they can manage issues e.g. to support integration and address inequalities of health. A multi agency approach, requiring cross departmental consideration, will be essential to address the wider community issues that are well referenced in this report. Our recommendations are based on a rigorous and systematic process of evidence gathering and subsequent analysis of what was submitted and presented to the ACMD. We would welcome discussing our findings with you.

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