Two British men have pleaded guilty to drug possession after landing at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport with suitcases full of khat.
Officials believe it was the second prosecution in about three years involving the shrub, grown mostly in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and prized for its stimulant- and euphoria-producing properties when chewed fresh, brewed in tea or smoked.
Agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection flagged air passengers Peter R. Leahy, 41, and Cimmaron R. Storer, 36, for scrutiny when they landed at BWI Dec. 5 because their airline tickets had been purchased by a third person at the last minute, spokesman Steve Sapp said. Agents found 95 pounds of fresh khat in their suitcases, Sapp said.
Leahy and Storer, both of Feltham in West London, told officers that a man they met in England offered them the airline tickets if they took the suitcases to the United States, Sapp said. They pleaded guilty last week in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to possession with intent to distribute drugs. They were sentenced to the 81 days they spent in jail, released and returned to England, he said.
Khat - pronounced "cot" - is legal in many countries; New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote last month about sampling the drug during a meeting with a government official in Yemen. Smugglers bring the drug into the United States to sell to immigrants from Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia and other countries.
"It is part of the culture from back home," Sapp said.
Because potency drops two days after harvest, fresh khat moves globally by air, in luggage or cargo, Maryland Transportation Authority Police Sgt. Jonathan Green said.
In 2007, a San Diego woman was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute after bringing about 80 pounds of khat from London into the United States through BWI.