Khat: our next drug problem?

The drug beloved of Somalis and other immigrant groups rated an article in the L.A. Times over the weekend, Khat — is it more coffee or cocaine?  The message:

For centuries the “flower of paradise” has been used legally in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as a stimulant and social tonic.

But in the United States khat is illegal, and an increased demand for the plant in cities such as Washington and San Diego is leading to stepped up law enforcement efforts and escalating clashes between narcotics officers and immigrants who defend their use of khat as a time-honored tradition.

Of course the Khat users invoke the sacred idea of diversity to push their case.

“It is a very touchy subject. Some people see it like a drug; some people see it like coffee,” said Abdulaziz Kamus, president of the African Resource Center in Washington, D.C. “You have to understand our background and understand the significance of it in our community.”

Oh well then. What about cultures that use hashish? Shall we legalize marijuana and hashish for them? And those coca leaf chewers of South America: let’s legalize cocaine.

Some claim it’s like coffee — it makes people alert. But others think it’s less benign.

A World Health Organization report found that consumption can lead to increased blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, constipation and general malaise. The report also said that khat can be addictive and lead to psychological and social problems.

“It is not coffee. It is definitely not like coffee,” said Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is something that gives you a heightened sense of invincibility, and when you look at those effects, you could take out the word ‘khat’ and put in ‘heroin’ or ‘cocaine’.”

Khat is illegal in the United States, but not in the United Kingdom where it was decided the evidence didn’t warrant banning it. But there are other problems than medical ones:

The plant’s cost has been linked to family problems, including domestic abuse, said Starlin Mohamud, a Somali immigrant who is completing a dissertation on khat at San Diego State University.

In fact, within the East African community in the U.S., there are many who welcome the khat restrictions.

“I have seen what it does,” Mohamud said. “Families who are trying to make ends meet on a daily basis cannot afford it. It just creates so many problems between a husband and wife to the point where a broken family is going to be the result.”

Ann posted in November about a large shipment of Khat intercepted in Nashville. She quoted from the article:

Police said money used from khat sales often goes to pay for vehicles used in car bombs and other forms of terrorist attacks.

Just another one of the cultural wonders we get from the Somali refugees, courtesy of the State Department.

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