“To ban, or not to ban, khat is the question”, tweeted Julian Huppert on Monday morning. Unfortunately, Labour MPs later in the day joined their Tory (and DUP) counterparts in a statutory instrument committee to vote in favour of a ban. The two Lib Dem MPs, Huppert and Greg Mulholland, were defeated 16-2 and the khat trade now looks set to be criminalised.
[khat is] a mild stimulant – roughly on a par with a strong cup of coffee. It is not considered particularly addictive, and there’s no clear evidence that it causes either physical or social harms. It is imported perfectly legally, and taxes are paid on it, to the tune of £12.8m each year.
When the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the government’s expert advisors, were asked to consider khat, they said that it would be “inappropriate and disproportionate” to ban it. The cross-party home affairs select committee, on which I serve, produced a unanimous report opposing a ban. And yet the home secretary plans to do it anyway.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto said we would “Always base drugs policy on independent scientific advice” and it’s great to see this in practice. But it’s sad that Labour and the Conservatives still can’t be trusted to follow the recommendations of the expert ACMD. Khat joins a long list of ignored advice, including on the classifications of cannabis, ecstasy, and magic mushrooms.
Not only is there no clear evidence of current harms – a position Labour seemed to accept but argued that we should ban khat regardless – criminalisation brings its own harms. Julian points out that even if a ban is effective, use will simply be displaced to more harmful drugs such as alcohol; that the ban will damage relationships between police and the communities that use khat; that it will harm Kenyan farmers; and that it will cost the taxpayer and economy millions each year.
Lib Dem drugs minister, Norman Baker, apparently so disagreed with the Home Secretary’s policy that he told her “face-to-face he opposed her decision” and “flatly refused to act on it”, according to the Daily Mail, with the job being handed instead to the Organised Crime Minister, a Tory.
So I’m sad that the Conservatives and Labour are taking away one more freedom at public expense and against all sound advice. But it’s a partisan source of pride that Lib Dem MPs and Ministers remain the leading lights for liberal and rational drugs policy.
Originally published at http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-lib-dems-only-party-to-vote-against-khat-drug-ban-38966.html