Meth-Like Khat Violates U.S. Drug Laws

  Meth-Like Khat Violates U.S. Drug Laws

Posted by CN Staff on August 31, 2002 at 22:37:29 PT
By Stephanie V. Siek, Associated Press  
Source: Dayton Daily News 

A custom as common in some countries as having a cup of coffee has clashed with American drug laws, puzzling immigrants and frustrating police.The cultural divide has developed over khat (pronounced cot), a leaf that is chewed or brewed when friends get together, when wedding guests celebrate or when co-workers take a break. The leaf considered by U.S. authorities to be addictive and harmful has been used for centuries in countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen.
‘‘What coffee is to Americans is what khat is for Somalis,’’ said Omar Jamal, executive manager of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minn. ‘‘The whole thing about khat being addictive is very strange for Somalis. It’s a completely different frame of thinking.’’Casual users say khat increases self-confidence, promotes clear thought and alleviates fatigue. The leaves resemble tea and are held in the cheek, much like chewing tobacco.The shiny, bright green or reddish-green leaves are sold attached to thin, rhubarblike stems and are wrapped in bunches with banana leaves to keep them moist. A bundle of 15-35 sticks costs about $40 in Columbus.Khat has been illegal since 1993 in the United States.‘‘Most of the experts equate it with methamphetamine,’’ said police Cmdr. Michael Manley in Columbus, where community groups estimate there are more than 30,000 Somalis — second only to Minneapolis.The leaves, if consumed within 48 hours of being picked, contain cathinone, which is chemically similar to amphetamine.Although khat is accepted in Somalia and legal in most European countries including the United Kingdom, the World Health Organization declared it a ‘‘drug of abuse’’ in 1980.A Drug Enforcement Administration report states chronic khat abuse can produce ‘‘violence and suicidal depression similar to amphetamine addiction.’’However, DEA spokesman David Jacobson and Columbus and Minneapolis police were unaware of violence linked to the leaf, also known as chat, qat, tschat or mirra. The DEA also has not seen evidence that khat is being marketed outside the ethnic communities.Khat had been seen in some of the largest U.S. cities, such as Detroit and New York, since the 1980s. But it was virtually unknown in Columbus and Minneapolis until the late 1990s, police said.The availability and use of khat has increased with the growth of some ethnic communities.The Hennepin County Attorney’s office, whose jurisdiction includes the Minneapolis area, has dealt with less than 25 khat-related charges in the past year. Spokesman Dan Rogan said the number was a slight increase from the previous year.The number of khat-related charges in Columbus was not available because authorities don’t classify charges by drug.Police seized 260 pounds of khat headed for Columbus in July. Police Sgt. Ben Casuccio estimated the amount to be up to 50 percent more than seized the previous year. DEA and U.S. Customs officials seized nearly 40 metric tons in 2001, more than double the amount confiscated in 1996.Under federal law, a person convicted of having 20 kilograms of khat could be sentenced to up to 16 months in prison.State laws vary.In Ohio, the mandatory penalty is at least 10 years in prison for possession of more than 6.6 pounds. Possession of the same amount of marijuana carries no mandatory sentence.In Minnesota, there is no mandatory penalty. Rogan said the average jail sentence is about one year.Jamal said that in Minneapolis, police have pulled over young Somalis in search of khat, a practice he considers as racial profiling.Jacobson said no ethnic community is targeted.‘‘The decisions are based on scientific research and market study that shows it is an abuse problem,’’ he said. ‘‘We need to take a proactive stance on khat because there’s a negative effect on the user and the family around them.’’Some Somalis — particularly women — agree.Maryam Warsame, the leader of the Somali Women’s Association in Columbus, said a lot of couples divorce because the husband is chewing khat.‘‘They don’t chew in their houses, they go somewhere else. It’s the woman who has to stay with the children, take care of the house,’’ Warsame said. ‘‘And sometimes the paycheck does not come home. They have to pay whoever is selling the khat, instead of giving it to their family, to their children.’’Police say they are confident that immigrants know the leaf is illegal in the United States.‘‘Some of them even know the difference between jail sentences here and in D.C.,’’ Manley said.However, community leaders are not so sure.‘‘They didn’t know it in the first place,’’ Jamal said. ‘‘But when someone runs into legal problems, rumor gets out. They’re very shocked as to the concept of making khat illegal.’’Dr. Abdinur Mohamud, a Somali-American who works for Ohio’s Department of Education on bilingual and English-as-a-second-language programs, said police and members of the Somali community need to educate each other to combat khat use.‘‘Arresting people will not solve the problem,’’ Mohamud said. ‘‘What will solve the problem is making people aware of this drug.’’Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)Author: Stephanie V. Siek, Associated Press Published: August 31, 2002Copyright: 2002 Dayton Daily NewsContact: edletter coxohio.comWebsite: http://www.daytondailynews.comRelated Articles:Plants Provoke Culture Clash Drug Comes To America Yemen Told to Break Ancient Habit

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Comment #4 posted by John Tyler on September 02, 2002 at 10:28:18 PT
 not more foolish
I agree it is foolish, but might also add arrogant, stupid, provential, and autoritarian. It can be used as an oppressive tool against minority communities. (Which is its whole prupose.)
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on September 01, 2002 at 14:06:39 PT

About This Article
Last night when I found this article I read it and thought about liberty not Khat. I have no idea what Khat is but obviously it is important to people in different cultures. When did our government decide it had the right to ban plants? I don't mean drugs made from a plant. I only mean plants in general. How narrow minded they must have been to think that any government could eliminate any plants that have been on the earth longer then men have been here? It so foolish in my mind.
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Comment #2 posted by Jose Melendez on September 01, 2002 at 07:14:20 PT

Hmmm, remind you of anything?
"The cultural divide has developed over khat (pronounced cot), a leaf that is chewed or brewed when friends get together, when wedding guests celebrate or when co-workers take a break."Hmmm, remind you of anything?Yes. Coffee, tea, wine, beer, cigarettes, and CANNABIS!
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Comment #1 posted by Sam Adams on September 01, 2002 at 06:58:09 PT

you can just see...
the LEO's, DA's, and other government types rubbing their hands together with glee - "We found a new way to pick on the poor brown people!"I like this part - "The cultural divide has developed over khat (pronounced cot), a leaf that is chewed or brewed when friends get together, when wedding guests celebrate or when co-workers take a break."Hmmm, remind you of anything?
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