The somnolent stare of the regular khat-chewer is a familiar sight for anybody who has travelled to the likes of Nairobi or Addis Ababa, and is increasingly seen on the streets of London. A mild sedative that gives off a reasonably powerful high, the plant's side effects include paranoia and anxiety, with insomnia, high blood pressure among the results of long-term use.
Khat is imported in bulk from Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen, and can be picked up for as little as £4 a bunch. In parts of London use of the stimulant has risen, particularly in places with high unemployment. Psychiatrists have seen an increase in patients from the Ethiopian, Yemeni and Somali communities in recent years.
Despite being banned in North America (America's DEA classify it as a 'Class 1 narcotic') as well as many European countries, in Britain khat is perfectly legal and users can happily buy it over the counter. The Tories say they will ban it if (or more likely when) they win power, but the current administration believes "community education" is the most appropriate response - a surprising choice given our puritanical PM, who was quick to rethink cannabis' classification.
Yet with the plant's health risks yet to be fully understood, and with its trade offering a rare export commodity for impoverished Ethiopian farmers (something Gordy's long been keen on), would a ban hurt more than it helped?