Fears rise in use, smuggling of the drug khat

By Lunar Loops · Jul 27, 2006 · ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    This from Reuters.com:
    Fears rise in use, smuggling of the drug khat

    Wed Jul 26, 2006 5:44pm ET[​IMG]

    By Christine Kearney

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Authorities in six states on Wednesday arrested 44 suspected members of an international drug ring that smuggled more than 25 tons of the stimulant khat worth more than $10 million from Africa to U.S. cities.
    The arrests resulted from what authorities called the largest investigation of khat trafficking in U.S. history and coincided with fears the drug was growing in U.S. popularity and becoming a source of funding for Somali warlords. "We are focused in on khat distribution at its infancy in the hope to prevent that from becoming a mainstream drug trend," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent John Gilbride told a news conference.

    Khat is a shrub typically grown in Ethiopia and Kenya and commonly chewed by people throughout the Middle East. The DEA considers it highly addictive hallucinogen.
    The ring used New York as distribution hub that transported khat to Portland, Maine, San Diego, Seattle and other cities, the DEA said, adding that khat sold for $400 to $600 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). Arrests were made in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Massachusetts, California and Washington.
    "Khat has been used outside its traditional immigrant populations within the United States but it has not taken off like the use of other drugs: ecstasy, cocaine and the like," Gilbride said.
    In an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, 44 suspected members of the organization were charged with khat importation and distribution conspiracy as well as money laundering. Thirty people were arrested in five U.S. cities and 14 remain fugitives. In a case stemming from the New York investigation, a grand jury in Seattle on Wednesday indicted 18 people on suspicion of khat importation, and 14 suspects were arrested, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle said.

    The drug was distributed through Somalia to New York via London hidden in suitcases, by express mail couriers, and through U.N. diplomatic pouches by one of the organization's leaders who was a U.N. mail room employee, authorities said.
    Cash proceeds were laundered through bank accounts in Dubai to benefit suppliers in Europe and Africa, the indictment said.
    The investigation was continuing to find the "ultimate destiny of the funds," which intelligence suggested was based in "countries in east Africa which are a hotbed for Sunni extremism and a wellspring for terrorists associated with al Qaeda," FBI assistant director Mark Mershon said. Khat, also spelled "qat" or "chat," is illegal in the United States but legal in parts of Europe, East Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, according to the DEA Web site.

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  1. Alfa
    Wrong. Christine Kearney should go back to school and learn to read like a journalist. The DEA website does not say Khat is illegal. It says two of it's alkaloids are. Khat itself is not scheduled in the US. I hope Richard Glen Boire will get on this case. There are many arguments to defend the defendants with. Khat is a fresh unscheduled plant, used within cultural settings which are intrinsic to the Somalian people. Arresting people for this unscheduled plant is not only illegal, punishing the cultural use of this plant is also violating the treaties on human rights.
    Besides, the effects of this plant can easely be compared to those of coffee. Coffee doesn't stain your teeth as much, but other than that, there is a strong resemblance.
  2. Alfa
    My email to reuters:

  3. elbow
    I think the case of khat's demonization in the West has some interesting parallels with the earlier movement towards marijuana prohibition in 1920's and 1930's America.
    The most obvious similarity is the racist undertones of the discussions over the drug--that it is primarily used by people of African descent--and that the substance is somehow hindering them in (western, white) society.

    If we look at how the media has portrayed Khat then some similarities to anti-marijuana rhetoric emerge: specifically, the claim that people will be chewing khat -or smoking reefer- all day and as a result they don't work, spend all of their money on the drug instead of taking care of their family, etc.

    In Yemen, at least, Khat wasn't a political issue until the 1950's, when it was briefly made illegal until prohibition was abandoned in the 1970's.

    The Reuters article basically states that Khat use remains restricted to its traditional populations, so I would ask why the drug is considered a significant danger to society, worthy of prohibition?
  4. Bajeda
    Swim isn't sure about the laws on khat, but can say that it has a bit more of an effect than coffee.

    People who chew khat like to do so to have conversations and such, but it tends to make them quite lazy. They sit around and don't do much. Its also quite addictive for some people, due to the cultural use, and heavy users tend to get narcotic like effects from it. They sit around in a daze as a smacked up person would.

    Swim has seen this himself, though isn't absolutely certain if it was only khat the people were on. Still, most people don't abuse khat (Somalia is a bit of an exception, though if swim was stuck in that country he would do many drugs to escape that hellish reality as well) and it shouldn't be considered such a danger to warrant this sort of action.

    BajEdit: To clarify the above, as I didn't write it out so well, people who chew khat tend to feel energetic and social, then when they chew more and more of it the results vary, and there is a crash effect similar to cocaine though its different as they get it from using the drug itself even, so it the drug appears to have narcotic like effects in heavy users.
  5. Alfa
    Comparing Khat to Ephedra would be more accurate, but does not get the point across as well.
  6. Lunar Loops
    Dozens Arrested Nationwide in Drug Case

    This from the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Khat-Smuggling.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin) :

    Dozens Arrested Nationwide in Drug Case
    Published: July 27, 2006
    Filed at 7:29 a.m. ET

    NEW YORK (AP) -- Federal agents say they have broken up a smuggling ring responsible for most of the U.S. distribution of a leafy stimulant called khat, which is illegal here but commonly used in East Africa and parts of the Arabian peninsula.
    Prosecutors announced the indictment of 44 people in New York on Wednesday on charges that they helped bring 25 tons of the plant into the U.S. in recent years.
    All but 14 of the suspects were under arrest after a series of sweeps in several states. About 5 tons of the drug, worth $2 million, have been seized by agents during the 18-month investigation, authorities said.
    Simultaneously, a federal grand jury in Seattle indicted 18 more people on khat importing charges. Fourteen were under arrest. The six-month spin-off of the New York probe led to the seizure of 1,000 pounds of khat.
    The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Michael Garcia, said the cases show law enforcement agents are taking the drug seriously, even if it is unknown to most Americans.
    Khat is a common and socially accepted drug in Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Users chew it, like loose tobacco, and generally experience a mild buzz that lasts for anywhere between 90 minutes to a few hours. It can also cause an elevated heart rate and blood pressure and create a feeling of euphoria.
    Overseas, it is seen as a social ill but an acceptable one, like alcohol. England considered a ban on khat this year but decided against it.
    Medical studies have yet to conclude how khat can affect someone's health, but some research has linked it to depression, hyperactivity or hallucinations among longtime users.
    It is illegal in the U.S. because it can contain two controlled substances: cathonine, which is found in very fresh khat leaves, or cathine, a less potent chemical that turns up once the plant dries.
    John Gilbride, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office, called it ''highly addictive and devastating'' to the people who use it.
    That assessment is not universal.
    The wave of arrests Wednesday bothered Omar Jamal, the executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minn. He said the drug is routinely used among immigrant Somalis in the U.S.
    ''I think it is very sad because khat is linked to Somali culture,'' he said. ''It's part of the social system.''
    The agent in charge of the DEA's Minneapolis office, Thomas Kelly, said that while Somalis may consider khat to be a part of their culture, the money from its sale sometimes flows back to criminal enterprises.
    Investigators said the defendants arrested Wednesday mailed khat to the United States in packages or sent it with couriers aboard commercial airlines. From New York, it made its way to Ohio, Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, Utah, Washington, Illinois and Washington, D.C.
    Some amounts of the drug were also smuggled into the U.S. inside United Nations diplomatic pouches, which are not subject to inspection by customs agents, officials said.
    Associated Press writer Gregg Aamot contributed to this report from Minneapolis.
  7. FrankenChrist

    Well this is an overreaction if I've ever seen one.

    I don't think khat can ever become popular with people who are not from those countries.
    -The method of administration is rather laborious. Chewing leafy material for a long time simply hurts your mouth and your jaw muscles.
    Supply will also be a problem.
    -Leaves are bulky and easy to spot at customs.
    -Khat needs to be as fresh as possible, it loses its strength really fast. Not good for transatlantic flights.
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