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Ethiopian in Atlanta accused of Khat possession

By SEAN O’SULLIVAN, The News Journal

Mohamed Kamal Kabira
Smyrna Police Department

WILMINGTON — A federal judge today found no probable cause that an Ethiopian student living in Smyrna was intending to distribute the potent drug, cathine, a component of the plant khat, essentially dismissing the charge.

However, Magistrate Mary Pat Thynge did find there was reason to believe Mohamedkamal Kabira, 37, possessed the lesser drug, cathinone, the other part of khat, with intent to distribute.

So she ordered Kabira detained pending trial.

According to a DEA website, the more potent part of khat, cathine, deteriorates after 48 hours and according to court papers the khat found at Kabira’s apartment was in boxes that had been shipped from Ethiopia and had been there for some time.

Possession of cathine carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Possession of the lesser drug, cathinone, carries a maximum penalty of up to 3 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Law enforcement officials said that cathine is on the same level as heroin while cathinone is on the same level as cough medicines.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Christopher Koyste had argued that khat is the cultural equivalent of coffee in Africa – typically chewed like tobacco or used in tea – and Kabira should be released pending trial.

He pointed to an article published by the U.S. Customs service in 2002, “One man’s coffee is another man’s controlled substance.”

“Chewing khat predates the use of coffee and is still often used in a similar context,” according to the article, and is grown side by side with coffee.

But further down, the article adds, “But medical experts report that compulsive use may result in manic behavior with grandiose delusions.”

According to court papers, Kabira had about 638 pounds of khat shipped to him from Ethiopia that he was breaking down into small bags for sale as far away as Buffalo, N.Y.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas McCann said the plants seized by law enforcement have not yet been tested and if prosecutors find that they do contain the more serious controlled substance, the charge can be re-instated by a grand jury.

Contact Sean O’Sullivan at 324-2777 or [email protected].

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