Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jun 2014
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Jonathan Brown
Page: 16


JONATHAN BROWN chews khat with immigrants in Sheffield and hears 
conflicting views about the drug's ban next week

I like to be happy on one day, so I like to chew. It gives me energy. 
If I lose that day, what will I do?

With trembling fingers Abdul Fatah unties the banana skin holding the 
red-green stalks of khat and steadily pulls away the soft new shoots, 
discarding the leaves before folding them into a wad and starting to chew.

It is a busy Friday morning in a pretty public garden in Sheffield's 
Burngreave area at the heart of the city's Somali and Yemeni 
community, the largest outside London. Around a dozen men are 
stretched out on the grass, others sit on the benches chatting, or 
simply basking in the sunshine.

After about an hour the effects of the khat start to cut in  it is a 
subtle combination not unlike a gin and tonic mixed with a double espresso.

Occasionally a police car passes by. No one pays any attention. It 
will be a different story next week. From Tuesday the chewing of 
khat, a recreational drug consumed almost exclusively by immigrant 
populations from east Africa and Yemen, becomes illegal.

While those caught in possession will first receive a warning then 
for a second offence a fine starting at UKP60, the ultimate sanction 
of supplying the new class C drug could be 14 years in prison.

The communities are divided over whether the ban, implemented despite 
experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluding 
there was little social or medical harm resulting from its use. MPs 
have raised concerns that outlawing it could drive the trade into the 
hands of al-Shabaab terrorists.

Chewers in Sheffield say little has been done to prepare the way for 
many to break the habit of a lifetime.

Mr Fatah, 38, unemployed, who suffers from depression says he has 
been an "addict" for 20 years, spending around UKP9 day on three 
bundles. "Plenty of people chew it. To us it's exactly like coffee. 
It makes me feel nice and comfortable. It is not really a big problem 
but when it is banned people will start to drink and take other drugs 
and come out on to the street and there will be a big problem," he warns.

It is estimated that 10,000 bunches of khat are flown from Kenya to 
London four times each week. From there they are sent to Liverpool, 
Birmingham, Leicester and Sheffield. One more delivery is expected on 
Sunday. "I'm going to buy a big box, this is the last time," shouts a 
woman across the park.

"You can spend 20 hours sitting and chewing," says Farhan Jama, 29. 
"A single mother with five children, every night she is chewing until 
maybe five o'clock in the morning but she doesn't wake up and the 
children miss school. It makes you paranoid and makes pressure on 
you, you can hear voices," he adds, explaining who the shouting woman was.

On most afternoons local men gather above a restaurant to chew and 
talk about politics, watch satellite television and listen to music. 
For many it is the focal point of a highly disadvantaged community 
which first arrived in Sheffield in the 1950s.

Ali, 46, a bus driver and father of four, stops off to join the 
discussion. He insists there is no problem with once a week use, 
which he compares to going to the pub. "I don't drink alcohol. I work 
six days a week  all my money goes to my children. I like to be happy 
on one day, so I like to chew. It gives me energy. If I lose that day 
what will I do?"

Mohamed Hasan, 32, arrived from Somalia, aged 13. He started chewing 
as a teenager. "I am hoping I will do better when I am not chewing. I 
used to play for Sheffield United under-16s but I fucked off my 
chances [because of khat] and since then my work has been on and 
off... This [the ban] is good for us. I will stop it."
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