Yemeni Find Khat-Chewing Unwelcome 

Yemeni Find Khat-Chewing Unwelcome 
Posted by FoM on January 26, 2001 at 07:04:59 PT
By Alex Gronke, Special to The Chronicle
Source: San Francisco Chronicle 
Abdo Algazzali, a 61-year-old native of Yemen, will not forget the day last year when police called him at Super Save, his corner market in Hunter's Point and told him to return to his San Leandro home immediately. Someone had tipped off the Alameda County sheriff's office about unusual plants growing on terraces in Algazzali's backyard. 
The sheriff's office told the San Leandro Police Department and a helicopter was dispatched to reconnoiter Algazzali's San Leandro home on Estudillo Avenue. Algazzali returned to find five officers turning his house upside down. Algazzali was handcuffed and arrested. At the same time, his wife, who was tending their store, the Better Trade Market on International Boulevard in east Oakland, was also being led to jail. Their crime: growing khat. "I was growing khat for my own use. I didn't know it was illegal to have it, " said Algazzali, a free man again. Khat, known to botanists as Catha Edulis, is an amphetaminelike stimulant. In Yemen and other countries in the Horn of Africa, khat has been cultivated for thousands of years. In the manner of tobacco chewers, khat users chew the leaves and keep a ball of khat in their mouths, slowly allowing the chemicals to seep into their systems. Khat, which grows on large, tree-size bushes, contains cathinone, a chemical that warrants the tightest restrictions of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. "There's no physical addiction, but like any amphetamine, there's the chance of psychological addiction," said Michael Chapman, a DEA spokesman. Immigrants from Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea have brought the tradition of khat-chewing to the United States. In cities with large Arab populations like Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y., police have long been aware of khat. But in the Bay Area, khat has only recently become part of the narcotics squads' vocabulary. Lt. Brick Hart, commander of vice and narcotics for the Oakland Police Department, said that the city has been trying to make people aware that being found with khat can lead to prison time. "Some of the store owners seem to be having trouble understanding it (khat) is illegal," Hart said. Algazzali unwillingly bankrolled a small campaign to educate the Yemeni community about khat and the law. Last spring, an Alameda County Superior Court judge decided that Algazzali's punishment would be to pay $2,000 toward an advertising campaign designed to warn the Yemeni community about khat's illegal status in California. After Algazzali's arrest, many Yemeni and Yemeni Americans are circumspect about discussing khat, and will do so only if their full names are not disclosed. "In Yemen, khat is used to help you work on the farm," said Mary, a Yemeni American and owner of the Friendly Market on West Street in West Oakland. "It gives you energy to work in the fields and the hot sun." Although khat is a stimulant and might originally have been used to help people endure long hours of labor, in Yemen there is concern that the task of acquiring and chewing khat is responsible for too much idleness. The Yemeni government recently passed a law requiring government employees to abstain from chewing khat until off duty. Mary concedes that in Yemen not much gets done after lunch, during the khat- chewing hours of the day. "From 2:30 on, they sit back and chew their khat," she said. But while khat possession can be prosecuted, in California khat is not officially illegal. Michael Van Winkle, public information officer for the California Department of Justice, said he had not heard of khat. The Alameda County District Attorney's office used a legal device known as an analog to charge Algazzali. An analog allows for drug prosecutions when someone is caught with a substance nearly identical to one that is classified as illegal. Cathinone, a speedlike substance, is the analog in khat. Bert Carter, the Oakland lawyer who represented Algazzali said analogs were instituted to thwart underground chemists who stay one step ahead of the police by manufacturing near-relatives of known drugs. One Yemeni American who admits to chewing khat is Hagage Masaed, also known as AJ, a hip-hop artist who rhymes in Arabic and English. In a song released in Yemen last year called "Nights in Arabia," AJ sings the praises of his favorite leaf. He lists the various types: kharaynee, gayfee, ghaley, hamdani. Each one with its own unique properties and characteristics. AJ emphasizes khat's benefits as a social lubricant less harmful than alcohol, which is prohibited in Islamic culture. "When you start to yap, you know you've got good khat," said AJ on a recent afternoon at the Friendly Market in Oakland where he works when he isn't in Yemen rapping or working on the house he is building in the country's capital, Sana. "After the mosque, the old men will go to somebody's house, chew khat and complain about business," Mary said. Although Algazzali and others have grown khat in California, AJ said the best still comes from Yemen. "You've got thousands of years of cultivation over there," he said. Enough high-quality Yemeni khat for a good afternoon chew, or khazin in Arabic, costs about $50. Like tea, the tender, pinkish buds of the plant are the most prized. But the buds don't travel well from Yemen, and now khat chewers are worried about growing their own and getting arrested like Algazzali. Most khat chewers make do with dryer leaves and tiny twigs that come in tightly wrapped, fist- sized bundles of dampened cloth. The dry leaves are revived by soaking them in tea or water before they are chewed. "Khat is an acquired taste," Mary said. "The leaves are bitter." First-time chewers report being up all night after a khat session. While most Yemeni Americans said they chewed khat back in Yemen, they stay away from it in the United States. Not only because it is illegal, but because the leisurely culture of a proper khazin does not jibe with the pace of American life. "I don't have the time," said Abdullah, a grocer in West Oakland who did not want his store identified. When Yemeni Americans and Yemeni immigrants chew khat in the United States, it is a way to connect to the old country. On a recent weekend, outside the Assalaam Mosque, a tiny mosque on the fringes of the Oakland waterfront, a small gathering of worshipers gathered under BART tracks after an afternoon prayer. The imam is from Egypt and speaks only Arabic, but three members of his flock are Yemeni immigrants and speak some English. They are rankled that someone has asked them about khat so soon after prayer time and during the holy month of Ramadan. "Khat is a waste of time and money. The more religious you are, the less you chew khat," said Ali, a worshiper who did not want to identify himself further. Even AJ, the khat aficionado, designed his new house in Yemen without a room specifically designed for a khat gathering. "Not to sound conceited, but I don't want everyone coming over to my place chewing, because then my wife has to clean up all these leaves and branches," he said. After his arrest, Algazzali said he is through with his homeland's favorite leaf. "I will never chew khat again," he said. "Not here, not in Yemen."E-mail comments to: ebayfriday sfchronicle.comSource: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Alex Gronke, Special to The ChroniclePublished: Friday, January 26, 2001 Copyright: 2001 San Francisco ChronicleAddress: 901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103Contact: letters sfchronicle.comWebsite: Articles:Yemeni Drug Comes To America Yemen Told to Break Ancient Habit
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Comment #2 posted by Jordan on January 26, 2001 at 10:29:35 PT:
Legal in the UK
Khat is harmless, that's why it's legal in the UK and other European countries...
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 26, 2001 at 08:14:37 PT:
Legal Garbage
"a legal device known as an analog to charge Algazzali"This legal garbage is designed to single out individuals. When corporations make analogues, they call them "pharmaceuticals." Methysergide is almost identical to LSD except for dosage (Sandoz). Visken for hypertension was made from psilocybin research. In the words of Alexander Shulgin on drug law (TIHKAL, p. 592), "---it is one of the most complex and self-serving bodies of legal affression that exists anywhere in the world."Amen, Brother.
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