Pubdate: Fri, 05 Oct 2007
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007 Fort McMurray Today
Author: Matthew Heindl, Today staff


Khat, a drug common in ethnic communities in Canada, is likely here 
in Fort McMurray, though not in the magnitude of eastern cities, say experts.

A local chemist approached the police to complain of  the drug's 
prevalence this summer, and he estimates  that 50 per cent of the 
population of South Arabian and  Somali residents use it here. Few 
others corroborate  this view.

The drug is a Schedule 4 national narcotic, which means  it is not 
illegal to possess, but still carries the  same penalties for 
trafficking as others, like cocaine  or marijuana. But it is illegal 
to use it while  driving.

The drug comes from the fresh, green leaves of the  Catha Edulis 
plant, and the active ingredient,  Cathinone, leads to energy and 
reduces appetite, what  some compare to several cups of coffee.

"I think that is not a good approach from the RCMP and  the reason is 
that because if you are driving and are  on drugs, they have the 
right to stop you, and if you  are involved in an accident, they will 
not test you for  khat, but will for other drugs," said Samer Obayed, 
a chemist with Canada Research Laboratories.

Obayed admits that he has a business interest in  mandating testing, 
but says that because khat is  commonly used by taxi drivers, it poses a risk.

"It could be as dangerous as marijuana depending on the  usage," he said.

The managers of the three taxi companies deny having  heard of the 
drug, though a dispatcher at one of the  companies who refused speak 
farther asked, "hasn't  everyone?"

The local RCMP doubt the large prevalence of khat in  the area, and 
as yet no seizures have been made.

"Given where we are, that's one of the reasons I didn't  ever really 
expect to see it here," said Const. Tye  Roddick-Ament, considering 
that the active lifespan of  the drug once pulled from the shrub is 
very short. He  said he first came into contact with the drug in an 
Edmonton hospital.

"I've had anecdotal references to it being here, but  I've never 
actually seen it myself. If you don't use it  within 24 to 48 hours 
you may as well be chewing  grass," he said.

Others agree that the lifespan is short, but it is  still possible to 
experience some effects of the drug  when the leaves are dryer.

Abdull Ahi Haji, a member of the local Somali  community, says that 
fresh khat can still be found in  Toronto because it takes only two 
days to arrive there  from Europe. But out here, it is generally hard 
to find  fresh khat, unless you have a family member visiting  from the city.

"I used to chew it back home, and even here in Canada  sometimes when 
they bring it from Europe nd England,"  said Haji. "Back home it's 
just a normal thing for  people to have after dinner ... or when 
people come to  see you."

He says that khat is a social habit, done among friends  and 
neighbors, but he rarely does it here because it is  difficult to 
find. The east Africans in the community  are predominantly Islamic, 
and do not drink or take any  other drugs. Khat is not as as 
addictive as cigarettes,  And so, he argues, it is not wrong to enjoy 
it in the company of friends.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart