The Australian Government’s Department of Health has sent a letter to the Somali Australian Council of Victoria advising recent changes of the importing of khat – a leafy green shrub, chewed for its amphetamine-like stimulant effect. The letter explains that the Australian Government has stopped issuing licences and permits and will NOT renew those that are currently active in Victoria. This could mean an end to the use of Khat since Victorians constitute over 90% of importers and users of the plant.
The Catha edulis plant, commonly known as khat or Qat, is a plant chewed for its stimulant effects and has cathinone and cathine, which produces psychotropic, euphoric, metabolic and cardiovascular effects similar to amphetamine. Khat grows predominantly in the high altitudes of East African countries such as Kenya and Ethopia as well as Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. This letter comes after UK banned the plant effective from 1st of July, when it was decreed a class C drug, in the same category as tranquillisers, valium and anabolic steroids. So far one man has been arrested for possession.
In Australia, khat is regulated through a complex regime of overlapping and differing Commonwealth state and territory laws. In some states possession of khat is strictly prohibited and carries heavy penalties, whereas in others possession of khat appears to be legal (at least for personal use). In the past, the importing of khat meant one must be in possession of both a Licence to Import and a Permit to Import which is issued by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of the Department of Health. Licences are currently only granted to individuals in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. A licence and permit holder may import up to five kilograms of khat per month for personal use and it is illegal to sell Khat. This all could change as old permits expire and new laws are expected to be passed.
Some Fact about Khat:
In 2008, 437 licences were issued in Victoria and 21 licences in New South Wales and Victoria have 90 percent of licences to import khat.
It is an offence to possess and/or sell and/or cultivate khat in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
Twenty years ago, 10 million people worldwide were estimated to use khat regularly. Khat production is the second biggest foreign exchange earner in Ethiopia after coffee.
Each week in 2009, there were on average 43 clearances of 5 kg shipments of khat through the Melbourne airport via the postal and air cargo streams, an average of 215 kg a week. In 1997, 70 kg were imported, while in 2008, 2,130 kg were imported.
The Department of Health website, where one would normally get the licences from, is now displaying the following message under Licence and Import Permit applications of Khat: “Khat importation scheme is currently under review. All applications to import khat are on hold until further notice”. In-light of these new restrictions to import khat, many believe a ban will likely to follow. A permit owner (who requested to remain anonymous) told madaale.com that he was worried his licence is due to expire in December and without a permit khat would be ‘green gold.’ “This can open the floodgate to alternative harmful substances if ban is imposed”, he added.
What makes the Australian restriction on khat different from that of the UK is, that the plant grows in some parts of Australia – mainly WA and QLD. many questions need to be answered, what is going to happen in few months time when the remaining permits expire and thousands of users have no access to their favourite pastime, ‘green leaves?’ How can you regulate a widely available plant that is easily found on roadsides and front/back yards of regular homes? what would be the fate of those addicted to it? are we going to see gov controlled Chewing rooms or Medicine Mira? (Mira is one of khat’s many names) One thing is for sure, the price will skyrocket and we may see gardens, public parks and backyards raided in search of green fix. This has already occurred, but the rate is likely to rise sharply and no doubt as a result many will be locked up in Prisons.
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