Raleigh Khat Lawyer

Khat PlantFederal and state law prohibits the distribution of khat – cathinone – a plant that is popular in parts of the Middle East and Africa for its stimulating properties.  Khat, known in Arabic as القات‎ al-qāt, is illegal under two parts of the federal drug schedules. There is no legal use for khat in the United States. Khat contains two central nervous system stimulants: cathinone–a Schedule I drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act–and cathine–a Schedule IV drug. Cathinone is the principal active stimulant; its levels are highest in fresh khat.

Khat is particularly popular in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen.  The flowering leaf is known as qat and gat in Yemen, qaat and jaad in Somalia, and chat in Ethiopia.

While khat is legal in certain countries, including countries in the Middle East and Africa, it is illegal in much of the rest of the world, either by general statutes or by specific laws that place it on drug schedules and prohibit its sale.

In both the federal system and in the state of North Carolina, the possession, sale, and possession with the intent to sell or deliver khat or cathinone is illegal, and can result in lengthy jail sentences.  In fact, khat is listed on the same schedule as opiates (schedule I) in North Carolina, meaning the it is subject to the highest penalties.

In addition, the possession of khat can trigger additional civil penalties, including the seizure of money (as part of civil asset forfeiture processes) or the assessment of state unauthorized substance taxes.

Cultural Issues Related to Khat

Khat has historically been an important part of Middle Eastern cultures, a kind of stimulant (similar in its use to caffeine) that is either chewed throughout the day or steeped in water to make a kind of tea. It is also an appetite suppressant.  In the 1950s and 1960s, many American women took amphetamines as appetite suppressants and mood enhancers.  In the 1970s and 1980s, with the ramping of the drug war and drug control in the United States, amphetamines became less popular and less widely consumed – although prescriptions for drugs such as adderall remain common. Khat has a similar cultural function, which is why people in the U.S. who are found with khat are often surprised at just how harshly the crime is punished.

Immigration Issues

The prosecution for khat possession or distribution can be particularly problematic for clients who are not United States citizens.  Since drug possession and distribution cases can result in removal or prohibition from entry into the United States, it is important that khat cases are treated with the same seriousness as other sorts of drug cases.


North Carolina Drug Crimes

Drug offenses

Drug offenses are among the most serious charges one can face.

The state and federal governments both maintain a long list of drug crimes, with severe penalties in both systems for conviction, including lengthy, multi-year prison sentences and steep fines in the thousands of dollars. Police and prosecutors are eager to make drug arrests and prosecute individuals to the fullest extent of the law, so they can be shown to be effective in getting drugs and drug dealers off the street. Unfortunately, innocent people are often caught up in this zeal, or persons are charged and pursued in much greater proportion to their role in any actual crime. North Carolina drug crime lawyer Damon Chetson provides a strong, aggressive defense of persons charged with drug crimes in Henderson, Vance and Wake counties. At The Chetson Firm, we fight to ensure that you receive a fair trial, that your rights are protected, and that you are afforded an effective defense that fits your particular situation.

Drug Stop Or Arrest

The Chetson Firm can help you with an aggressive defense of any of the following types of charges:


Possession is a Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor, depending upon the type of drugs and amount involved. In most cases, marijuana possession is a Class 3 misdemeanor, and any jail sentence will be suspended rather than imposed. However, possession of more than half an ounce of marijuana can be charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor, with up to a year in jail at stake.

Possession with Intent

Possession of drugs with the intent to sell or distribute them, or the manufacture or sale of drugs, is a felony. Although it may be possible to get probation instead of prison time if convicted, an offender will still have a felony conviction record, which can haunt you in many ways. A strong, aggressive defense of any felony charge is important.


Trafficking can be charged as a state or federal offense. Conviction most often results in a mandatory minimum jail sentence, unless you agree to cooperate with the government in providing substantial assistance to help them catch bigger traffickers. You would need to act quickly while any information you had was still useful, and you would need the help of a lawyer to negotiate or review an agreement with the government to make sure it is truly in your best interests.

Getting caught transporting, distributing or just being in possession of large amounts of marijuana, meth, cocaine, heroin or other substances can result in the very serious charge of trafficking. Penalties for trafficking range from two years to more than 20 years in prison, depending upon the drug and the amount involved.

At the Chetson Firm, we go to work right away investigating your case and building your defense with the goal of getting you the best outcome possible, including a dismissal or reduction of charges, a not guilty verdict or acquittal, or diversion to drug treatment instead of incarceration.

Help is Available from an Effective North Carolina Drug Crime Lawyer

If you have been arrested for possession, intent, trafficking or other drug crimes in North Carolina state or federal court, contact Damon Chetson at our offices in Raleigh, North Carolina to evaluate your options with a knowledgeable and experienced Wake County drug crime lawyer.

Felony Drug Charges Reduced

We recently won a victory for our client by reducing felony drug charges to two misdemeanors with no jail time.  Our client was the victim of a robbery and breaking and entering.  Upon calling the police, our client was questioned about his own possible possession of drugs.  Police suspected that the robbery was drug-related.

Our client did all the right things; refused to consent to the search, was polite with the police officers.  But ultimately he was charged with a felony drug offense.  Fortunately for him, we were able to prevail upon the prosecutor to reduce the offense to misdemeanors that will enable our client to still be fully employed and, after the end of probation, return to his normal life.

6000 Federal Inmates to be Released Early – Is It Enough?

In the past 24 hours, one of the major headlines across the spectrum of news organizations was that approximately 6,000 inmates are to be released early from their sentences. While this step may provide some hope about the dismal mass incarceration problem in the United States, that hope is minuscule and at this point, ill conceived. But, a step is a step, no matter how small.

This story relates strictly to federal inmates convicted of non-violent crimes. All of the inmates in this release wave were convicted of low level drug related crimes that most were scheduled to be released in around 18 months anyways. The average length of incarceration for this population was 9 years – for low level non-violent drug crimes. Likely crimes that would have qualified for probation or minimal prison time in a state court. Further, about 30% of those being released are non-US citizens, so they are being automatically deported.

Continue reading “6000 Federal Inmates to be Released Early – Is It Enough?”

Painkiller Overdoses Decrease as Medical Marijuana is Legalized

It’s becoming more and more common: state after state is legalizing medical marijuana. Some states are even legalizing the “drug” for recreational use, such as Colorado and Washington. Proponents of the legalization of marijuana point to the opportunity for tax revenue and the belief that a stoned driver is no more dangerous, perhaps even less so, than a driver who has had a couple of drinks but is still under the 0.08 BAC requirement. Data has been and will continue to be a critical factor in pushing for the legalization of marijuana, whether it be medical or recreational.

Speaking of data, a study was recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal that shows states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana for the purpose of managing chronic pain have experienced a significant drop in deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses – about a 25% drop to be exact. To illustrate more data: in 2011, 55% of drug overdose deaths were related to prescription medications and 75% of those involved opioid analgesics such as morphine, oxycodone, and methadone.

From a criminal law perspective, it would seem that the legalization of marijuana would have multiple effects, including:

If you have been arrested for a drug related charge, contact a Raleigh drug lawyer at The Chetson Firm for a free consultation.

Felony Drug Possession in North Carolina

Raleigh drug lawyerIf you’ve been arrested for a drug crime in North Carolina, there are a wide number of charges that can be applied, including:

  • Misdemeanor Possession
  • Felony Possession
  • Possession with Intent to Sell and Deliver (PWISD)
  • Maintaining a Dwelling
  • Sell and/or Deliver
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Federal Drug Charges

Because misdemeanor possession charges are covered extensively elsewhere in our blog, we are going to focus in felony charges in this article.

Felonies are more serious drug charges than misdemeanors, and are punishable in most cases by probation and possibly prison time. The prison time is determined by the severity of the charge as well as a person’s previous criminal record. If it’s a small amount of heroin and you have no criminal history, you may be eligible for probation. If it’s a large amount and you have previous convictions, especially for drug offenses, you may likely be looking at prison time.

Most North Carolina drug felonies are Class G, H, or I felonies on a scale of crimes that range from Class A to Class I. Drug Trafficking charges are as a higher level felony, as are methamphetamine manufacturing crimes, which can be punished as a Class C felony. As an overview:


  1. Sell Heroin, Sale of Heroin, or Sale of Opium or Sale of Cocaine or Sale of any Schedule I or Schedule II are punishable as Class G felonies.
  2. Manufacture of Methamphetamine (Meth) is punishable as a Class C felony, unless the manufacture of meth merely involved packaging or labeling the drug in which case it is punishable as a Class H felony.
  3. Sale of Scheduled III, Schedule IV, Schedule V, and Schedule VI drugs are punishable as Class H felonies. This includes the sale of marijuana, which is a Scheduled VI drug and punishable as a Class H felony.
  4. Possession with Intent to Sell and Deliver (PWISD) of Schedule III through Schedule VI drugs, except cocaine and heroin, is a Class I felony.
  5. Possession with Intent to Sell and Deliver (PWISD) or sale of a counterfeit drug is punishable as a Class I felony.

At the very top of the drug laws pyramid are drug trafficking laws. These are the laws that address the large scale possession, sale and distribution of controlled substances. These controlled substances can be legal prescribed drugs as well as illegal drugs. These charges are based on weights, and North Carolina, the weight limits to qualify for drug trafficking charges are not very high at all. In North Carolina, drug trafficking laws impose a mandatory minimum jail sentence if you are convicted. So, if you are convicted of drug trafficking, you are going to prison. The only way to avoid a prison sentence in a drug trafficking crime is to provide substantial assistance, often known as snitching. If you provide substantial assistance, the judge has the flexibility to impose a lesser sentence, including possibly probation.

When considering substantial assistance, it is important to do this with the help of an experienced drug attorney. Assistance provided outside of a formal agreement does not necessarily translate into a reduced sentence, so you want to make sure you get credit for any assistance you offer.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a felony level drug crime, hire a Raleigh drug lawyer as soon as possible to take advantage of any opportunity to better the case and minimize the potential consequences.



Prescription Fraud: What is Obtaining a Controlled Substance by Fraud?

Raleigh Prescription Fraud LawyerNorth Carolina takes all drug charges extremely seriously and among the most serious charges are those relating to obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, often called prescription fraud. Under NCGS § 90-108, it is unlawful for any person to:

  1. Obtain a controlled substance by representing that they are a licensed practitioner able to prescribe medication when they are not in fact, licensed
  2. Manufacture or distribute a controlled substance using a stolen or fraudulent registration number
  3. Acquire or obtain possession of a controlled substance by fraud, forgery or deception
  4. Obtain controlled substances through the use of a legal prescription which has been obtained by willful misrepresentation or withholding of information from one or more practitioners
  5. Steal a controlled substance made accessible during the court of employment to misapply or divert those substances for personal use

There are other components to this law, but the above identifies the broad brush strokes. So what does this really mean? There are a handful of situations that we most commonly see when dealing with prescription fraud charges.

The first example of prescription fraud is doctor shopping. This is where someone visits multiple doctors in an attempt to obtain a controlled substance, either because one doctor doesn’t prescribe and they try another, or that they are trying to amass a large quantity by getting multiple prescriptions. Prescriptions are tracked, so when a person requests that a prescription be filled and there are multiple requests from multiple doctors, this raises a red flag for law enforcement to investigate. This becomes an especially serious issue when a person doesn’t inform each doctor of other doctors visited and medications prescribed by those other doctors.

A second example is that of a fraudulent prescription. This occurs when a prescription pad is stolen, a forged one is created, or a doctor’s DEA number is stolen for the purpose of creating a prescription that can be submitted to a pharmacy to be filled. In some cases, someone has a valid prescription but changes the fill date because they have taken their previously allotted amount more quickly than prescribed. This is not only prescription fraud, but can also be construed as insurance fraud if it includes an attempt to have insurance cover the cost of a drug that is not due to be covered.

The third example is when an employee of a business with access to a controlled substance takes possession of the drug either for personal use or distribution. This is most commonly seen with employees of doctor’s offices and hospitals, but also occurs with veterinary practices and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Prescription fraud can be charged as a misdemeanor if the violation was committed unintentionally, but the vast majority of these crimes are done knowingly and willfully, making it a felony. A felony of this nature is not eligible for expungement for 15 years from date of completion of sentence, meaning that the result is that you’re labeled a convicted felon. However, there are options for dealing with this charge in a positive way if you have a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney.

Conviction Bonuses for Drug Informants


Reporter John Tucker has an important story in Indy Week about a ten year program whereby the Durham Police Department paid bonuses to drug informants who were able to secure convictions.

“[T]he D.A.’s office was not aware of any agreement to pay confidential informants at the completion of cases,” said Assistant District Attorney Roger Echols in an email last month to Ian Mance, a lawyer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We were also not aware of, if there were any, payments to confidential informants for bonuses. If we had that information or known it existed we would have provided it to the defendant in discovery.”

As Tucker correctly reports, the fact that witnesses had a financial incentive in the outcome is clearly Brady information that should have been turned over to each defense lawyer before trial.

Roger Nichols, who is running to be elected DA, has a real problem: his defense that the Durham County DA’s office did not know about the payments is irrelevant since Kyles v. Whitley says that a prosecutor has a duty to inquire with prosecutorial agencies.

In addition, under North Carolina’s open discovery law, the state had to turn over this evidence in each case to the defense.

This story continues to highlight the overall problem in Durham of a corrupt criminal justice system that has seen two DAs removed from office.

I got charged with 3 felonies: Selling marijuana. PWISMD, Maintain a Dwelling, and Felony Possession. Will I go to jail?

Will I go to jail? Its my first offense? I attend college, get good grades in college, and have a job. What are the chances that I will be locked up and for how long if so?

While it is technically possible for you to be put in prison for the Sale or Delivery of Marijuana, the chances are very low assuming this is a first offense. Felony Sale/Deliver Marijuana is a Class H felony in North Carolina and, for that level of drug crime, a conviction can include either a community punishment (fines/costs or probation), an intermediate punishment (supervised probation and drug conditions), or an active sentence (prison of a maximum of 8 to 18 months).

The chances, however, of having a jail sentence, given how overcrowded the jails are and given that you have a clean record, are very low.

What you should be worried about is the effect a felony conviction will have on your ability to stay in school, keep your student loans, or get a good job after school. Many employers will not hire convicted felons. In addition, a felony conviction will bar you from ever possession a firearm or ammunition again in your life.

It may be possible for you to avoid a felony conviction, whether because the state’s evidence is weak, or because your attorney may be able to have you participate in a drug diversion program, or because you perform what’s called “substantial assistance” through a cooperation agreement with Law Enforcement.

Whatever you do, you should do it with the advice of either an attorney you hire, or with the help of a court appointed lawyer or public defender if you can’t afford a lawyer. This is not something you should try to resolve on your own.

Can I be convicted of drug trafficking?

A drug trafficking offense is defined differently under state and federal law. In North Carolina, a drug trafficking offense is defined by the weight of the drugs, or the number of dosage units. Not all controlled substances have trafficking statutes. But for ones that do, the quantity determines the level of trafficking.

In the case of heroin or opiate trafficking, the state merely has to show possession of 4 grams (or mixture of heroin or opiate with some other ingredient resulting in four grams). That quantity of opiates qualifies someone for trafficking under North Carolina’s drug laws, with punishments ranging from 70 months on up.

Different drugs have different punishment ranges under North Carolina’s trafficking laws, with those punishment ranges determined by the weight or quantity of the drug in question. A Wake County District Attorney need not show that the drug was sold, distributed, or exchanged in order to prove a state drug trafficking case.

Federal law operates differently. Anything other than mere possession of a controlled substance is considered trafficking. Whether a drug crime is a trafficking crime also can affect sentencing, insofar as if a weapon, for instance, is used, carried, or possessed in furtherance of the drug trafficking crime, the United States government can additionally prosecute the person for what’s called a 18 USC 924(c) offense.

Under federal law, the quantity of drugs is irrelevant to whether the offense is a drug trafficking offense. Amounts as small as .1 gram can be considered as part of a drug trafficking crime if those amounts were sold or distributed or exchanged.

The quantity of drugs does impact sentencing when it comes to the sentencing guidelines, and in that respect the government can use not just the quantities exchanged during the convicted offense, but also all quantities of drugs historically distributed through what is called “relevant conduct.”

Because of its expansive definition of relevant conduct, federal drug crimes can be punished very severely, and often only after a showing of quantities through a sentencing hearing where the standard is preponderance of evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt.



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