Khat Crackdown Causes Consternation


The New York Times reports that a crackdown on khat, a stimulant plant popular in some Arab and East African countries, has made the leaves more expensive and harder to obtain in the U.S., where immigrants have openly chewed them for years despite their illicit status. "It's expensive, and it's not good," complains one deli worker, referring to the inferior product he has been buying lately. The story is pretty calm as these things go, noting that in places such as Somalia and Yemen khat chewing serves an important social function and "is considered as normal as sipping coffee"; that immigrant students and shopkeepers use khat to boost their concentration while studying and working; and that "it is legal in some European countries." For the sake of balance, however, the Times adds that khat "can have side effects, including hypertension, hallucinations, impotence and bouts of violence, prosecutors say." (Everyone knows that if you want an expert opinion about the dangers of a psychoactive substance, you should ask prosecutors.) To back up the alleged link between khat and violence (which got a lot of play around the time of the 1992 U.S. intervention in Somalia), the Times informs us that "khat has been linked to at least one murder, in 2004, when a man shot and killed a woman while trying to steal khat from a house in Minneapolis." By that logic, I suppose, "bouts of violence" should be counted among the "side effects" of jewelry and big-screen TVs.