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Out of the country since last fall, it’s been an experience for me to return and see what’s up here these days. Mad cow, West Nile, SARS. It’s all so dizzying.

Good thing pot’s being decriminalized. Everyone now, big breath.

But really, why would Ottawa stop with a few party joints? Grass is OK for a trip around the block. But dudes, if you want a real five-star getaway, go for qat.

Qat, also spelled khat, is illegal in Canada. But it’s the habit of choice in Yemen, my other home. Indeed, Yemen is the undisputed king of qat. Virtually all Yemeni, government brass to lowly farmers, chew the leafy amphetamine.

After packing it in your jowls for hours, you feel like Superman: as if you’ve had a couple of spliffs, a deep Swedish massage and six double espressos all at once.

Qat costs the impoverished Arab country about $6 million US a day in lost productivity. Kids go shoeless when dad buys too much. And qat plants suck plenty of water, a resource Yemen may run out of in a few years.

Still, with some marketing, I see no reason why this little drug that says “I think I can” couldn’t move alongside pot and tobacco as a major player on Canada’s new team of recreational addictions. It has some distinct advantages.

Need to nail that business deal? Go to a group chew. It’s easier than golf. And everyone looks like a happy Louis Armstrong.

Qat isn’t packaged with grisly health warnings. For about $12 you can get a bundle wrapped in pink cellophane and walk down the street with pride, as if you had flowers for your wife.

Qat has no confusing brands, except maybe High-and-Dry. People appreciate such simplicity.

There’s no anti-qat lobby.

Qat could improve East-West relations. While Canadian tobacco companies make billions targeting the developing word, where 70 per of the world’s smoking deaths occur, sending qat this way would return the favour.

Best of all, qat stimulates both body and mind. Gazing at a round bottle, a chewer once asked, “Just what is behind America?”

Was the question political? No, this fellow just wondered what was on the other side of America, geographically that is. His friend, another chewer, would have nothing of it.

He knew the Earth is flat.

Do you see the logic? Ultimately, qat can help us rediscover the mellow and golden tranquillity of yesteryear. Yes, throw out every clock in sight. In fact, the Gregorian calendar has to go.

The Islamic calendar, started in AD 622 when Mohammed emigrated from Mecca to Medina, is a better option. Yes, it’s 1481. Hey, that means Columbus hasn’t discovered America yet. The Yanks don’t exist.

Also, because the Islamic year is shorter, time spent doing nothing goes faster. Bonus. And holidays come quicker.

See what a bit of casual drug use can do?

Sure there are a few hiccups. Efficiency is one. Stock candles for when the lights go out. And my wife Jean, a doctor trying to help the Yemeni, can tell of oxygen running out halfway through surgery.

Last year, some Yemeni emergency workers couldn’t rescue a pedestrian who innocently fell into a road pit. Afternoon chew must have beckoned. The crew left a shovel for the public to dig him out. Three days later, still in the pit, the poor fellow died.

That would never happen here, though. This is Canada: progressive, unfettered, enlightened. Worrying that we, too, might get trapped in some kind of pit is really a minor quibble, is it not?

So really, why not just go all the way? Let’s put a new leaf on our flag.

Qat’s where it’s at.