In Africa, it’s the perfectly legal pick-me-up and social lubricant of choice, but in America, khat is an illegal narcotic—and its popularity is growing, the Los Angeles Times reports. Cities like Washington and San Diego are stepping up enforcement measures against the green leaf as growing African immigrant populations increase demand. But those immigrants see the crackdown as unwarranted. “They act like they know more about khat than I know,” said one Ethiopian-born cabdriver.
Khat leaves contain a chemical similar in structure to amphetamine but only about half as potent. Last year, the UK deemed it safe enough to remain legal, but a World Health Organization report warned it could lead to increased blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, and general malaise. “It is a very touchy subject,” said the president of the African Resource Center in DC. “Some people see it like a drug, some people see it like coffee.”