Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Break Me Off A Piece

Of that new federally-hated, arbitrarily demonized blight on society, khat. This report breaks it down beautifully, and I love the article's subtitle: "Courts to decide if khat is an illicit drug or more like a double espresso."

Basically, khat is a leaf that is usually chewed to experience its mild stimulant effects. It is native to east Africa and parts of the Arabian peninsula, where its use often plays a social, as well as pharmacological, role. Sound familiar?

According to the article, "[Users] describe the effects as wakefulness, euphoria and talkativeness. Its defenders liken it to coffee drinking in other cultures." Its use in the United States is mostly limited to African immigrants, especially Somalians, which brings undertones of racism and xenophobia to the already-rich blend of bitter puritanism, nutty irrationality, and slightly acidic teetotalism that one detects in this political brew.

Khat (or technically, one of its active ingredients) is currently a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Acts, as is heroin.

As you can tell, I think it's much ado about nothing. Here are some quotes from the article:

“There’s no question that it is an extremely expensive fight,” said Eric Sterling, president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. “My understanding of the use of khat is that it should be a very low priority for federal law enforcement. … I think these cases are largely a waste of very precious federal criminal justice resources.”

DEA special agent Rodney Benson in Seattle said in a press release announcing the indictments. “This drug has the same dangerous and damaging effects as other drugs and some of the huge profits from the khat trade were being returned overseas.”

But many experts challenge that assertion, noting that khat has been used in social and religious settings in Somalia and surrounding countries for centuries and is legal in the majority of Western countries.

The World Health Organization has studied khat repeatedly over the years, most recently in 2006 when it assessed its health impact as quite modest. It also has concluded that it does not merit international control.

“No one except the U.S. government asserts khat is particularly addictive,” said Bob Burrows, a professor of Middle East politics at the University of Washington, who spent eight years in Yemen, another khat-chewing society.
Women complain that it makes men lazy, sexually impotent and is a waste of scant financial resources.
Yeah, we tried to outlaw a drug like that. Didn't work too well. At all.

Note to reporter: Really? I mean, REALLY? That's reporting? Facts, facts, facts, nuthin but the facts, cold hard facts? Oh well, shame on us both; I took the bait of that irresistible throw-away line.

Note to DEA agent: When you say things like "This drug has the same dangerous and damaging effects as other drugs" without qualification, you look like you don't know anything about drugs. Different drugs have different effects, and that's exactly what this is about; if its effects are like tobacco or coffee, we probably don't need to declare war on it.

Which brings me to my final point: doesn't it look like the DEA borrowed this logic from the people who want to go to war with Iran? "Hey, things are going so well with this war [in Iraq/on drugs], maybe we should expand it [to any place hot, miserable, and Muslim/to tobacco that can't afford a good lobbyist]!" Anyone?