City Desk

D.C. Cops Don’t Know Squat About Khat

A man who faced felony drug charges for dealing khat doesn't seem to be in trouble anymore. The Metropolitan Police Department stalked Ethiopian cafe owner Etana Shuremu as if he were the Rayful Edmond of the 5300 block of Georgia Avenue NW. For months, they sat on his Petworth storefront, learning the intricacies of his alleged drug ring.

By April, they'd intercepted 104 kilograms of khat supposedly headed to Shuremu from the U.K. in the mail. Cops got a search warrant and raided Shuremu's business, where they say they found 36 more kilograms of khat. Shuremu was arrested without incident. MPD referred to him as a "a major drug traffic dealer." They said his arrest had taken $95,000 worth of khat off the streets. But on July 19, after prosecutors requested the action, Shuremu's case was dismissed without prejudice. Prosecutors can refile, but a month later, there's no sign they will.
A bitter tasting leaf popular among East Africans, fresh khat delivers a buzz that makes people euphoric and talkative after chewing it. Though no one is quite sure if khat does anything more dangerous than stain teeth, it was outlawed in the United States in the 1990s. Reportedly, that hasn't stopped it from being popular among D.C. cab drivers.

So why, after all the hubbub MPD made, is Shuremu walking free? Shuremu's lawyer and the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment on the matter, and an official inquiry to MPD has so far gone unanswered. But a police source close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because he didn't have permission to discuss the investigation, says it's simple: No one knows crap about khat.

"They couldn't find an expert to testify at the trial," he says. In drug trafficking cases, a law enforcement expert  usually testifies about the drug in question and how criminals distribute it. According to the source, MPD doesn't have a local khat expert. In such a situation, the Drug Enforcement Agency's Washington Field Office is sometimes tapped, but DEA spokesperson Melissa Bell says khat use isn't a "broad-based" problem ("It's more a cultural thing," she says) so the DEA doesn't have an expert on hand either.

That would seem to be good news for any burgeoning khat cartels. Quick, start selling—before the authorities figure out what's up.

Photo by cliff1066™ via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 Generic

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  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    Spice is now illegal, right?

  • noodlez

    SEVERAL QUESTIONS.

    MPD DIDNT KNOW THAT KHAT ISNT ON THE DEA'S RADAR?

    HOW MUCH MONEY AND TIME WAS SPENT ON A CASE THAT ISNT GOING ANYWHERE?

    WHAT DO YOU CALL A PERSON ADDICTED TO EATING KHAT?

  • Blue Rondo Turk

    This is laughable. If you are going to outlaw Khat and raid businesses over it then get coffee off the streets as well, it is a more potent drug. I'm from Meru,Kenya (probably top exporter of khat worldwide) where we grow coffee, khat, tea and grain all of which are drugs, but of them khat is the least druggy of them all. Numb jaws and winding conversations are not good reasons to outlaw a plant.

  • Begla

    Yeah, having chewed a bunch of khat, it's nothing to worry about. It's banning is an excuse to maintain the drug war at best and quite possibly based in racism aimed at african and middle eastern immigrants

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