Enjoyed a thought-provoking session with the Global Commission on Drug Policy in Geneva. While we were discussing how the world can treat drugs as a health problem not a criminal problem, the UK government was doing the opposite. The Home Secretary is banning the herbal stimulant khat – completing ignoring the evidence of its own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
Khat is a mild stimulant traditionally used by members of the Somali, Ethiopian and Yemeni communities. The ACMD completed a comprehensive review and found no evidence khat was linked with serious or organised crime and concluded that there was no case for prohibiting it.
Despite this, Home Secretary Theresa May has decided to ban it, making it a class C drug. This is the first time that a Home Secretary has gone directly against the advice of the ACMD to ban a substance. At a time when most of the world is moving towards more progressive drug policies, the UK is taking a big step backwards.
What is the point in having expert scientific advisers produce a comprehensive review, if you are going to ignore the conclusions they find if you don’t like them? The Global Commission has asked governments to follow science and evidence based drug policy and this is exactly the opposite.
The ban will not reduce use; it will simply criminalise lots of people who are minding their own business using khat in their own homes. Tensions between communities and the police will increase, attacking an ethnic minority and making their lives in the UK more difficult and dangerous. Plus, instead of a market worth £14 million per year being properly taxed, it will fall into the hands of criminal smuggling groups.
Professor David Nutt’s hilarious article about him mistakenly thinking the government is banning cats rather than khat sums up the absurdity of the situation well. You won’t be surprised to find the arguments for banning kittens are no more ridiculous than those used to ban the stimulant.
By: Richard Branson
(Founder of Virgin Group)