Police seize about 500 pounds of illegal drug khat from Twin Cities storage lockers

The drug khat appears to be making a return to the Twin Cities. 

The green, leafy East African plant is illegal and gets people high. Just last month, police found nearly 500 pounds of the drug in two metro storage lockers. 

“Khat is a plant from East Africa that's chewed and it's a stimulant, so it has similar effects to amphetamine, so it's an upper,” said Officer Aaron Machtemes of the Eagan Police Department.

Though socially acceptable in countries like Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia, in Minnesota it remains illegal since a court ruling back in 2001. 

Wednesday, authorities arrested a man in Dakota County after police discovered hundreds of pounds of the drug. 

“I believe that the khat being stored in these storage facilities was for distribution and would have eventually been sold on the streets,” said Officer Machtemes.

A tipster noticed some unusual shipments at a storage locker in Eagan and let police know. Officers found 300 pounds of khat in the storage unit and later uncovered another 180 pounds at a locker in Minneapolis.  The investigation then led authorities to a home in Wayzata, where they discovered stacks of cash and a handgun. 

“And actually there were also some packages intercepted that had an additional 20 pounds of khat, so all in all, over 500 pounds of khat,” said Officer Machtemes.

The khat recently taken off the streets has a different look than the drug did years ago. That's because users and sellers have found a new way of preserving khat's active ingredient. 

“They used to have to keep them fresh, but they've kind of perfected a method now where they freeze-dry it and that preserves the active ingredient, cathinone,” said officer Machtemes. “That's the stimulant and that preserves it in there.”

The Eagan Police Drug Task Force says khat can sell for about $600 a pound, so in all, authorities were able to get $300,000 worth of the drug off the streets. 

“We've had it here and there, but this is a significant amount of khat that we came across,” he said.

The suspect in this case is in custody at the Dakota County Jail on suspicion of felony drug possession. His first court appearance is scheduled for Friday.