Banned Khat drug 'pushed underground' in Wales, users say

Khat being sold at a market in Maua, Kenya Image copyright Getty Images

A plant outlawed in 2014 is still easy to obtain but the price has gone up and the quality down, users have said.

They claim the ban on Khat, popular in Cardiff's Somali and Yemeni communities, has had little effect - but community leaders disagree.

Khat, grown in parts of Africa, has been chewed for centuries in the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula.

It was classified as a Class C drug and penalties for possession with intent to supply can be up to 14 years.

The leaves are chewed over several hours and have a stimulatory effect.

Many from the Somali and Yemeni communities across the UK continued the tradition, including those in the Butetown and Grangetown areas of Cardiff.

It led to concerns about the impact of Khat on the health of users, and on social cohesion and family life.

Image copyright Getty Images

Users in Butetown told BBC Radio Wales' Eye On Wales programme since the ban more than two years ago, Khat "has just gone underground like any other illegal drug".

"It's everywhere," one person told reporters.

Another user told the programme the price had increased from £3 to £10 a bunch, and that it is now being sold dried.

Khat is most effective when it is fresh and within a few days of being picked. Prior to the ban, it was flown into airports across the UK and then transported by road to cities with substantial Yemeni and Somali populations.

According to researchers studying the Khat ban at the University of Hertfordshire there were 510 seizures of the plant in England and Wales in 2015-16 - amounting to over 11,500 kilos of Khat.

Community development worker Saeed Ebrahim said: "The ban has been excellent. Families are working together and men have gone back to work.

"However, services should have followed for those left in limbo… there's a huge gap that needs to be filled."

Image copyright Getty Images

Det Chf Insp Dan Howe of South Wales Police said that there had only been four incidents of Khat possession in the police force area since the ban.

He said: "What we saw prior to the ban is that Khat was a factor in a lot of antisocial behaviour reports within the Cardiff Bay area.

"People would chew Khat in public places for several hours and that would lead to people loitering and depositing litter. Since the ban we've seen far fewer of those incidents reported."

You can hear the full programme on BBC Radio Wales on Sunday, 12 February at 12:30 GMT - or listen again on the BBC iPlayer.

More on this story