News

Somalis, Yemenis Face US Prosecution for Khat

Jeff Swicord

Thirteen natives of Somalia and Yemen are on trial in U.S. Federal Court near Washington for allegedly smuggling millions of dollars' worth of khat into the United States. Khat is a plant whose leaves and upper branches contain a mild stimulant and has been openly chewed in those and other countries for centuries, often while drinking tea.

Khat is chewed in social settings around the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa.  It is legal in Somalia and Yemen, and in Britain and the Netherlands, but not in the United States.

Khat's green leaves and branches contain cathinone, a stimulant known to produce a mild high but considered a serious drug under U.S. federal law.

Grant Smith with the Drug Policy Alliance says the government overreacted.

"When people have taken a look at khat, they have found that it is really just a mild stimulant," said Smith.  "It is akin to a couple of cups of coffee or some energy drinks.  And while there may be some long term health effects from using it, that doesn't mean we should criminalize people who use it."

But some believe khat is addictive and often leads to child abuse and domestic violence as depicted in this film by the Minneapolis based organization Somali Cause.

"So, they stay up for maybe a day or two or so," noted Mohamed Hassan works with Somali Cause. "And then once they start feeling the sleepiness, then they crash for two or three days.  So there you can see that person cannot really be productive."

Drug policy reform advocates argue that prosecuting people for khat is a waste of public resources.  They say the use of khat should be treated as a public health issue.  

"We should have a reasonable response that is based on public education, that looks at health, the health effects that is reality-based education," Smith added.  "And not respond to the typical sort of response we usually have to drugs which is to criminalize first and ask questions later."

Smith says people are less likely to seek help for khat use if using it is a crime.  But Mohamed Hassan says khat is not a recreational stimulant that can be used within reason.

"I do think strongly that it is addictive.  I mean it makes people go beyond their means.   Obviously, it is not helping them," said Hassan.

Hassan says khat use is not very common in the Somali-American community.  Attorneys for the 13 defendants say the case stems from concerns that smuggled khat is being used to fund terrorism, but that no evidence of that has turned up in court.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs