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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Khat, Now Banned In U.K., Flows Into the Bay Area

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 7:20 AM

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When traveling, it's wise to learn as much as one can about the local culture, which means identifying -- and ingesting -- the local stimulant.

Travelers to South America may encounter a tea made to help one acclimate to high altitudes that also makes you feel sharper than a razorblade. That'd be coca tea, brewed from the same leaves processed to make cocaine. In the Horn of Africa and Arabia, and in places where people from Somali or Yemen find themselves, the custom is chewing the leaves of a tree called khat, which induces an amphetamine-like euphoric high that leads to lots and lots of talking, mostly.

What a scourge. Beginning Tuesday, khat is now illegal in the U.K., and was years decades nonexistent in the U.S. But 10 years after the last bust, it's now free-flowing in the United States and particularly in California, according to VICE, though not exactly easy to find.

  • The khat-man

Khat may not be technically illegal itself, but the alkaloid chemical inside the plant, cathinone, is a Schedule I controlled substance (which is to say, very illegal).

A Chronicle article from 2001 talks about a Yemeni-born San Francisco shopkeeper who found himself raided by drug cops after they found a crop of khat in his backyard. He had no idea there was a law against khat, and some law enforcement officials at that time had never heard of it.

As VICE reported this week, the West Coast went 10 years without a khat bust. And then in 2013, the deluge: two major busts, both intercepting mail shipments, yielded 16 metric tons of khat, or almost 35,000 pounds. That's hard to even visualize.

Other, smaller West Coast busts, 60 in all, yielded between 10 and 50 kilos each, VICE reported.

That's a lot of khat. And since the plant does well in hot and dry climates, which could include California, it's possible that the khat is being grown locally.

If you can find any, khat fetches about $30 a bag in West Oakland, where "Yemeni bodegas" proliferate, VICE reported, though it appears to be unavailable outside of Yemeni or Somali circles.

Which is too bad. Drug cops say the addiction potential is "psychological" as opposed to physical, and that back in Yemen, where government workers are asked not to chew khat on the job, its users hang back and talk all day while chewing away on balls of the stuff rolled into the side of their mouths.

All in all, the drug sounds about as dangerous as an Americano, and more enjoyable. Good thing it's illegal.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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