Field of Science

Khat is a no-no in Lincolnland and the USA

Small article in the Chi-town Trib says a midwestern man was arrested at ORD for having about 85 pounds of khat in this luggage.  He didn't know it was a "controlled substance", a list of prohibited plants and substances that makes little sense other than they are legally no-nos and their possession gets you into trouble.  Khat (or kat) is Catha edulis, a shiny-leafed shrub in the bittersweet family.  It is not a narcotic; it is a stimulant.  In eastern Africa and parts of central Asia khat is chewed as coffee is
drunk for a morning pick-me-up.  When the USA was planning another of its foolish military adventures in Somalia, the USA's military issued a warning to its troops about "drug-crazed" war-lords and other nonsense.  One of my students showed us the warning; he was with a med-evac unit in the air-force reserves.  After doing a bit of research he wrote his commanding officer a memo suggesting that such mis-information was not even slightly helpful and he was told he was being insubordinate.  No surprise there.  Knowledge is like that when it comes to military "intelligence".  Now, of course, stuffing a wad of rather nasty tasting leaves in your mouth (yes, many of our vices are an acquired taste), is not the western way of starting your morning with a pick-me-up, so it's obviously not to be trusted.  Wonder if betel, also a mild masticatory stimulant, is a controlled substance too?  But on the grand scale of addictive substances let's look at just how awful khat is.  This graph shows the relative addictiveness on one axis and it's physical harmfulness on the other.  The further the substance to the top right (the heroin neighborhood), the worse it is, and the closer the substance to the bottom left, the more benign it is.  So where is khat?  Lower left.  Lower than the relative positions of alcohol and tobacco, a depressant and a stimulant both legal and condoned by our culture.  Oh, and cannabis too, which is nearly legal for medical use.  Sadly if you visited many parts of the world, and saw all the khat being sold in markets, you would never guess it could be illegal here in Lincolnland.  So this poor fellow will undoubtably be severely fined if not imprisoned for having khat.  The report says his 85 lbs of khat has a value of more than $12,000!  Over $140 a pound?  In the USA?  In what market would that be?  The Somalis would find that figure outrageous and start smuggling if they thought that kind of money could be made in the USA.  Let's stop 1000 people in downtown Chi-town and see what they'd pay for a pound of khat.  Think you'll find one that even knows what it is?  File this one under crazy, useless, destructively stupid drug laws.

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