Khat (Catha edulis) Law & Policy 

The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics has developed an outline for an argument that Khat (Catha edulis) is not a controlled substance under federal law because it is not officially enumerated as a controlled substance and cannot reasonably be considered within the "mixture phrase" of Schedule I.

The argument was tried (by others) and lost in Connecticut in 2000. 
Read the opinion in the Case.

DEA "Drug Intelligence Brief on Khat (June 2002)


Khat comes to America, prompting crackdown

Copyright 2000, The Associated Press State & Local Wire, April 23, 2000

By Tom Hayes

In a tiny Brooklyn cafe with faded tourist posters of Yemen in the window, the mood at a table of Arab men darkens when the topic turns to khat.

"In my country, khat is easy," says Abdul Rahman. "Everybody, the president, they have it. ... I don't understand this."

Rahman, a 26-year-old Yemeni, was working at the cafe on the Islamic

holiday Eid al-Adha when narcotics officers walked in and busted three men

in the basement on drug charges.

Raids at the Blue Province Restaurant and two other Yemeni businesses last month had nothing to do with cocaine, designer drugs or even marijuana. Instead, the target was people selling khat, a stimulating leaf that many in the Middle East chew like tobacco and consider no more sinister than a double espresso.

Rahman and other Arab immigrants in Brooklyn say that before the raids they had no idea khat (pronounced cot) was illegal here. "The community has been consuming khat for a long time - this is not a secret," said Ali Sharaf, a member of a Yemen-American student group. "I'm surprised that now it's a big thing."

Back home in Yemen, khat chewing is commonplace, often a daily practice. It's the same in Djibouti and Somalia on the Horn of Africa.

U.S. authorities got interested when khat appeared more and more in Arab communities around the country.

"This is a serious problem," said New York City police spokesman Sgt. Andrew McInnis. "We responded to complaints about the negative impact on

the community."

Authorities allege the suspects arrested in the raids were breaking laws banning possession of cathonine - the key ingredient in freshly cut khat leaves, which look like basil. The federal government lists cathonine as a "Schedule I" controlled substance, the same category as heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Khat chewers say it gives them energy and a feeling of euphoria. But the Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that khat is psychologically addictive.

Compulsive use, the DEA says, "may result in manic behavior with grandiose delusions or in a paranoid type of illness, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations."

Khat is believed to have been traded as a commodity even before coffee. Its use originated in Ethiopia, then spread through east Africa and parts of the Middle East. Muslim legend has it that its stimulant effect enabled all-night prayer vigils.

But now some people in Yemen are worried that too many government workers were wasting away their afternoons - and their income - chewing khat. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has tried to set an example by announcing he will only chew on weekends.

The United Nations estimates that in Djibouti, 98 percent of the men use khat to numb the pain of poverty. Somalian warlords dole it out to soldiers as part of daily rations.

In the United States, the market for khat appears to be limited and nonviolent. Customs officers confiscated 49,000 pounds of khat in fiscal 1999, compared to 1.2 million pounds of marijuana.

Most of the khat was seized at the New York area airports. Agents who caught a whiff of the plant's pungent smell during random inspections last year found a total of 30,500 pounds stashed in luggage, mainly in amounts so small the couriers weren't prosecuted.

Seizures also have been made at Denver's airport, on the New Jersey Turnpike and in Minneapolis. In San Jose, Calif., a Yemeni man was arrested

in 1998 for growing 1,000 plants in what was described as the first khat plantation in the United States.

Still, khat "is probably not one of our priorities," said New York DEA spokesman Stan Skowronski.

Police launched the Brooklyn investigation about six months ago after learning that street dealers were peddling khat around Arab storefronts. The going price was $40 for a day's supply.

On March 15, an undercover officer bought khat at a Yemeni restaurant. The next day, the Islamic holiday, officers found customers lined up for refrigerated khat being cut up and sold at the Blue Province Restaurant, authorities said.

By the time officers wrapped up the investigation, they had seized about 240 pounds of khat and arrested eight people. The defendants face up to seven years in prison if convicted of felony drug charges.

James Palumbo, attorney for one suspect, said his client was shocked to find himself the target of a drug bust. The community, he added, doesn't need to see anyone go to jail to be scared straight.

"These are law-abiding people," he said. "The cops have made their point."

One young Yemenite, who identified himself only as Jamil, admitted buying khat at the Blue Province only an hour before the police raid.

"When you're around (khat), you've got to have it," Jamil said. "But it's bad for us. We need to stop it."

Rare African drug

found at checkpoint

Copyright 1999 San Diego Union-Tribune, August 10, 1999

By Gregory Alan Gross


Border Patrol agents used to seizing bales of marijuana were momentarily stumped by the rolled-up banana leaves on the floor of the Toyota Corolla.

But one veteran agent recognized what was inside the banana fronds

—khat, a shrublike plant from central and southern Africa. The leaves of the plant act as a narcotic stimulant when chewed.

“We don't see much of this stuff,” said Vince Bond, U.S. Customs spokesman in San Diego.

The Corolla's two occupants—one a naturalized Canadian citizen living in Toronto, the other a legal resident U.S. alien from Los Angeles—were stopped at the Border Patrol’s checkpoint on northbound Interstate 15 Saturday afternoon when agents noticed the banana leaves, rolled up in newspaper.1

“Luckily, we had a supervisor here who had seen it before,” said Sherry Feltner, the Border Patrol agent in charge of the Temecula checkpoint. “If it had been me, I would've been saying, ‘What the hell is this?’”

The two men, both 40 years old and born in Somalia,2 were questioned but eventually released, minus their leafy cargo, which amounted to about one-third of a pound. Border Patrol officials indicated that the amount of khat seized was too small to justify prosecution.

But while the two men may have been transporting a minuscule amount of khat, others are more ambitious, and much more organized.

“We seize a lot of it at [Los Angeles International Airport],” said customs spokesman Mike Flemming in Los Angeles. Customs officials at LAX said yesterday that agents often intercept would-be khat smugglers with loads of up to 100 pounds of the narcotic leaf.

Because it is extremely perishable—it usually loses its potency after three days—such amounts are much more than any individual could be bringing in for personal use, said Kevin Rupp, assistant customs port director at the airport.

“There are people actually recruiting (khat) couriers in England; they advertise for them in newspapers,” Rupp said. “They're given an airline ticket, a little spending money and a couple of suitcases full of khat.”

. . .


The federal government considers khat a controlled substance, in the same category as cocaine and heroin. Still, it turns up in ethnic markets, restaurants and shops in New York, Boston, Detroit, Dallas and Washington,


Nationwide, customs agents have seen nearly 35,000 pounds of khat so far this fiscal year, which began last October and runs through the end of September. In fiscal 1998, agents confiscated nearly 62,000 pounds. Between fiscal 1997 and 1998, the number of khat seizures by customs nearly tripled to 1,410.


Editorial Notes by Richard Glen Boire, Esq.

1 Another article about the arrest quoted U. S. Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal as saying, “What is so unusual is that some of us never even heard of this before.” It was the first known seizure of khat by border agents in the region, said Villareal. (See, “African stimulant seized at Temecula checkpoint,” The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, Tuesday, August 10, 1999.)


2 Evidently, both men told agents they were Canadian citizens, but a computer check revealed the men were Somalian and legal residents of the United States. With their suspicion piqued by the discrepancy, the Border Patrol agents asked the men to consent to a search, whereupon they allegedly allowed the agents to search the car.