Image courtesy of Eesti\Flickr
The Government risks criminalising people who have never broken the law in their lives by making the drug khat illegal without an education campaign to inform and support those affected, Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner has warned.
Until now, khat has been a legal substance in the UK. It is popular in some African and Arabic communities as its use in parts of Africa and the Middle East is as common as drinking beer is in Greater Manchester.
From 24 June, khat will be classified as a Class C drug, which means that people could be jailed for two years for possessing it. And if they bring it back from a country where it is legal they could face 14 years in jail.
Tony Lloyd said: “Whether khat is legal or not is not what is at issue here – the problem is that the Government have done this without telling anyone. Where has the education programme been?
“In some parts of the world khat is used in the same way that many people in the UK would go to the pub for a pint. Can you imagine what would happen if a Mancunian faced two years in jail for buying a pint of Boddington’s at his local? But that is, in effect, what the Government have done by making khat illegal without having a comprehensive campaign to educate and inform those affected.
“It is, of course, up to the Government to decide which drugs are legal and which are not. But when they took the decision to criminalise khat they had a duty to ensure that the decent, law-abiding people who use it knew about this change in the law and what the consequences would be. They have failed abysmally – it’s a shambles.
“I’m pleased to say that Greater Manchester Police are taking the right approach to this and will be engaging with communities where khat is used to educate them about the change in the law. But it is outrageous that the police have had to do the Government’s job. But I’m also calling on the Government – even now – to get up and do what they should have in the first place.”