Catha Edulis: Legal consequences
Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 9:43 am
Legal consequences of Catha Edulis
Cathinone and cathine are controlled under the United Nations’ Convention on Psychotropic Substances. In the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and most of the Middle East, excluding Yemen, the leaf itself is banned. The khat plant is not controlled under domestic law in the United Kingdom.
From the standpoint of their cultural norms, however, African/Arab sellers and users living outside of their country of origin do not consider khat to be illegal and often openly advertise its availability on signs in restaurants and grocery stores much as they would any other food product.
Khat was freely available in Saudi Arabia prior to 1971, when it was classified as a narcotic and declared illegal. Further cultivation, commercial activity, and personal khat use was banned. The basis for this legal change was the local religious teaching of Islam, which strongly recommends preventing harm to the individual or society. The Saudi government applied very severe punishments against users and smugglers, including the death penalty. However, in some areas bordering Yemen, many have continued to use khat.
Khat leaves have been illicitly bundled and shipped into the United States in increasing amounts since the1990s. According to the Federal Drug Information Network database, more than 57,000 lbs (25,850 kg) of khat leaves were seized in 1998.
Nevertheless, law enforcement efforts directed against khat use in the United States have been minimal as there is some doubt about whether khat will ever become as popular a street drug as marijuana, crack cocaine, and other drugs. However, illegal laboratories have been discovered manufacturing a synthetic form or khat’s most active ingredient (cathinone), which is called “methcathinone” and known on the street as “cat.”
Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties
In the United States, the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, consolidates a number of laws regulating the manufacture and distribution of drugs and chemicals used in the illegal production of controlled substances.
Federal trafficking penalties for Schedule I and II drugs range from a minimum of five years to a maximum of life in prison. Penalties for trafficking Schedule III and IV drugs range from three to five years in prison and a fine of $25,000. However, in the case of khat, drug enforcement in the United States appears to be random and not a high priority.
Until the late 1990s, authorities had been foregoing prosecutions of khat smugglers. According to officials, khat presents some unusual problems for prosecutors, particularly the short shelf-life of the drug. In addition, because of the bulk of the product, the amount carried by a single person is under the level to trigger federal prosecution. As a result, most air shipments are merely seized and shipped to government incinerators for destruction, while the couriers are deported.