KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 — The Health Ministry is planning to amend the Poison Act 1952 in the next parliamentary meeting to clamp down on the cultivation of kratom (ketum) leaves, Deputy Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said today.

He told Parliament that as regulation of the plant would be difficult, the plan was to prohibit cultivation as well as other related activities involving the plant that has opioid characteristics.

“The Health Ministry is in the process to amend the Poisons Act 1952 to ensure control over psychoactive plants like ketum. This amendment prohibits cultivation, planting, import, export, supply or ownership activities for psychoactive plants like ketum.

“We hope that this amendment can curb the ketum addiction problem which leads to many negative impacts,” said Dr Lee in his answer to Datuk Shabudin Yahaya (PH-Tasek Gelugor).

Coincidentally, the proposal comes as the government is planning to decriminalise individual drug possession for personal use.

The deputy minister said his ministry has found that youths would abuse the plant and paired it with other substances such as alcohol, opiates, methamphetamines and amphetamines.

Shabudin also pointed out in his supplementary question that the debate on ketum has been raging in the Dewan Rakyat since last year with no resolution in sight.

“We understand the need to control the ketum plant but we are studying the best method to curb its cultivation as it is easy for the plant to grow here. It can be grown in someone’s backyard. So the draft of the amendment will hopefully address this matter.

“And hopefully we can table this at the next session,” said Dr Lee.

Datuk Seri Bung Mokhtar Radin (BN-Kinabatangan) then argued with Dr Lee, saying that ketum-producing countries such as Thailand were profiting strongly by exporting this to the US and the UK as the plant is a valuable cash crop with multiple health benefits.

He said instead of an outright ban, it would be wiser to explore controlled cultivation and limiting local consumption.

However, Dr Lee maintained the government’s stance against ketum cultivation.

“We look at it from the perspective that it is a gateway drug for teenagers and youths. Ketum is used together with other drugs such as methamphetamines or amphetamines. It’s a first stage drug.

“Once the teenager is hooked on ketum, he will ‘upgrade’ himself and start trying out other drugs. This is the problem, that’s why the government is not encouraging ketum cultivation as we see it as a social illness that needs to be curbed,” explained Dr Lee.