Cops warned over khat crimes.
THE long-awaited ban on the drug khat came into force this week with police officers in Birmingham advised to respect the "culture and history" of anyone caught chewing it.
The herbal stimulant, grown in Africa and popular among the Somali community in the UK, is now an illegal Class C drug.
But officers have been told by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to issue only a slap on the wrist 'Khat Warning' for a first offence, and a PS60 fine for a second offence.
Only if they were caught using khat on a third occasion would a person face arrest and a court hearing, according to guidance issued by ACPO.
An estimated 90,000 people use khat in the UK and its consumption is confined almost exclusively to the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities.
The West Midlands has the second highest concentration of people of Somali origin outside London. A Home Office survey of people of Somali origin in Birmingham in 2005 found that 34 per cent had chewed khat in the month before the interview.
Khat is chewed in a social setting, typically at home, at parties and in khat cafes for up to six hours at a time. About 2,560 tons of khat was imported in 2011-12 with a value of PS13.8million.
The plant is native to Africa and the Middle East and its effects are similar to, but less powerful than, amphetamines.
The ACPO policy says: "It is important that officers retain their operational discretion; taking into account that khat has historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture for certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa."
Chief Constable Andy Bliss, of ACPO, said: "Enforcement of the khat ban will be firm but proportionate. Officers will take into account the nature of the offence and its severity, using a tiered approach towards offences."