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Experts divided on local presence of chewable drug khat in Fort McMurray
Fort McMurray, October 05, 2007 - 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?"
"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.
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.
Source: Fort McMurray Today