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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 23rd January 2013

Hooray for the ACMD!

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has published its latest report1 on Catha edulis, khat and in the covering letter to Theresa May, Home Secretary, the Chair, Professor Les Iversen, says;

‘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.’

The ACMD last looked at khat in 2005 and Prof Iversen says that this new review was requested in order to look closer at societal harms than the previous one. In reality, he’s giving Ms May some cover because the new review was ordered when the Conservatives came to power with the formation of the coalition government in May 2010. A number of ill-informed right-wingers had said that khat would be banned by a Tory government.

Importantly, Iversen says it is impossible to determine if khat use is the cause of societal problems or a response to those problems. It is pleasing that the ACMD recognises that there are problems for the Somali and Yemeni communities in the UK. Whether there is the will or the resources to combat those problems is harder to say but it is certain that you cannot address them by driving khat use underground.

The ACMD confirms what I had heard rumoured; that khat use since 2005 has declined. This is measured by a fall in VAT from khat imports at the same time as an 18.4% rise in the populations where the main users are found.

I’ll just mention a few other key points from the ACMD report before coming to the main point of writing this blog.

‘…no robust evidence has been found which demonstrates a causal link between khat consumption and any of the harms indicated.’

With particular reference to the Yemeni community the report finds;

‘The majority of this group use khat in an unproblematic manner.’

‘There is no evidence of khat consumption being directly linked with serious or organised criminal behaviour in the UK or to support the theory that khat is funding or fuelling crime.’

‘…the ACMD has not been provided with any evidence of Al Shabaab or any other terrorist group‘s involvement in the export or sale of khat’

‘Evidence presented to the ACMD by researchers found no link between gang crime and khat use’

So, what happens now?

Well, the media has latched on to the words ‘overwhelming majority’ in Iversen’s letter to suggest that there was dissent in the ACMD that will give the government the excuse to ignore its findings.

The BBC report2 points out that the ACMD was not unanimous and finishes;

‘Our correspondent said press reports had suggested that the government might now conduct its own review of the substance.’

This is making a mountain out of a molehill because the ACMD does include members with a fairly prohibitionist tendency. But, since the ACMD is only an advisory body, there is nothing to stop Ms May ignoring its recommendations.

Except her boss.

Because, when the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) called for a Royal Commission on drugs policy David Cameron’s immediate response was that drug use was falling so the present policy was fine and there was no need for change.

Since the ACMD is pretty certain that khat use is in decline, Cameron should say the same about current policy on khat.

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