In a decision released today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that khat -- a plant native to the horn of Africa and chewed by many in the region as a mild stimulant -- is indeed an illegal drug under state law.
Since we live in a state where you can be charged based on the weight of your bong water, maybe it's no surprise that a plant that contains stimulants is considered an illegal "mixture."[jump]
Use of Khat, and its dried form, graba, have come to Minnesota in recent years with the influx of East African immigrants. But use of the plant is hardly widespread here -- khat doesn't grow in the States, and it's chemical properties degrade pretty quickly upon harvest.
Today's ruling stems from the case of Ahmed Ali Ahmed and Yosuf Mohamed Adam, who were arrested last year after police found them with three and a half pounds of khat and "noted that their tongues were green."
The two were convicted of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance, but their lawyers appealed. They argued that while khat contains cathine, a Schedule I drug, since it's a naturally occurring plant, it's not a mixture under the law.The court disagreed, saying "anything that has mass and occupies space," and contains any amount of a controlled substance counts as a drug.
"By that definition, human beings are illegal because we contain testosterone, which is a Schedule III substance," says Michael Hager, who represented Ahmed. "We're talking about a plant that has about the effect of a cup of coffee, that the legislature has never explicitly made illegal, and that is almost exclusively used by the Somali community. Now the courts want to treat it as a Schedule I drug, something more serious than methamphetamine. We think it's an Equal Protection violation."
Hager says he and attorney Bob Davis are preparing to appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.