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  • July 22nd, 2014

What is Khat? Is it Illegal?

cyber_glow_150Khat, (or quat, qat, Catha edulis) is a green-leafed shrub found in parts of Africa and Arabia, particularly Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia that has been chewed for many years. It is said to make users feel more happy, alert and talkative as a result of it’s stimulating properties, and in many areas it is seen as a normal part of social life.

It is also said to suppress the appetite, but continued use may lead to insomnia, anxiety and depression.

There has been some concern as to the negative effects that some say it has such as, on occasions, mirror the effects found when using amphetamine, which has now prompted the Home Office to act in order to protect what they describe as the potential health and social concerns associated with it’s usage. This is despite the recommendation of their own advisors, the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), who suggested that a ban on Khat was unnecessary.

The concern the Home Office have is that failure to act could place the country at serious risk of becoming “a single hub” for the illegal onward trafficking of khat to countries that do have a ban. Such countries include Holland and the whole of Northern Europe, together with the USA and Canada. Home Office fact sheet on Khat

Khat is now an illegal Class C drug

Accordingly therefore, and as of the 24th June 2014, it has now become illegal in the UK to possess, supply or import it. It has been classified as a Class C controlled drug, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, with penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine (or both) now available. This ban applies to both public and private places.

Depending upon the circumstances, the police could issue a warning or a penalty notice to adults if they were content that the amount involved was merely for that person’s own use. However, possession of it for a third time would likely result in an arrest and charge.

Young people aged 17 years of age or below are not eligible for such a warning or notice. They would therefore be referred for a youth caution, youth conditional caution, or charge if seen as a repeat offender.

Legal Issues

A number of important legal or evidential issues can arise however.

Firstly identification. Are the authorities familiar with it, and would they recognise it? Whilst the Home Office suggest that the police will deal with Khat in a similar way to cannabis they are not trained, nor do most have the experience, to recognise it. Even to an expert it may be difficult to identify, and can be seen as similar in appearance to spinach or some forms of salad leaves. For it to be Khat it must contain an active ingredient known as Cathinone.

Secondly, the amount of it. What sort of amounts are likely to be considered sufficient or consistent with personal or own use? When will an amount be seen as too much for someone’s own consumption, and therefore be seen as inconsistent with personal use? Certainly the amount of Khat needed to have the desired effect would far outweigh that needed in respect of cannabis. It is said that Khat users could go through hundreds of gram amounts at one time.

Thirdly, and this applies to all controlled drugs not just Khat; in respect of “supplying” offences, what is often misunderstood is that by merely sharing, giving or even passing such a drug to another, this would amount to supplying it in law.

It is therefore vitally important if you, or anyone you know, is arrested or accused of possessing, supplying or importing Khat that you receive appropriate advice.

Further Advice & Representation

If you need advice or representation in respect of any legal issues relating to Khat or other drugs, then you can contact MJP solicitors on 0333 011 0515. Alternatively you can get in touch with us and find out more legal advice about drugs through our dedicated drug defence website.

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