PETALING JAYA: Authorities are acting to clamp down on the consumption and sale of ketum leaves by increasing fines by up to 10 times and imposing a longer jail sentence on offenders.
This comes as more than 14,000 people have been arrested for abuse since 2015 and large tracts of land, particularly in northern states like Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and parts of Perak, planted with the trees, many of which can be seen from the main roads or highways.
Such pictures can be easily found on Facebook and other social media. The leaves have opioid-like properties.
While the planting of ketum trees is not a crime, doing this on a commercial scale – including picking and processing the leaves – has been an offence under the Poisons Act 1952 (revised 1989) since 2004.
There is even an easily accessible website that discusses the various strains of ketum, reviews and lists down online vendors, and acknowledges that “ultra enhanced kratom strains” must be avoided to prevent addiction. (Kratom is the Thai name for the plant.)
Ketum leaves are boiled to produce a drink which is usually packed in small packets for sale to drug addicts.
Drug addicts abuse ketum leaves because of their psychoactive components, such as mytragynine, which produces a stimulating, sedative and euphoric effect, and can lead to addiction.
The National Anti-Drug Agency has revealed that ketum leaves have also been added to other substances such as tobacco, alcohol, hallucinatory pills, mosquito repellent, painkillers and cough syrup.
“This has led to its consumption becoming a trend among youths as (the juice) only costs RM10 a litre and is easily available on the black market,” said the agency’s enforcement and security director Zainudin Abdullah.
He said that under a proposal to amend the Act, penalties for possessing, processing and selling ketum leaves will see a tenfold increase from a maximum fine of RM10,000 under Section 30 to RM100,000, and a jail sentence of five years, increased from four years.
Zainudin said the proposal came about because many offenders consider the existing penalties mild and not as heavy as drug offences despite the consumption of ketum having almost similar effects and consequences.
“In a meeting of a committee on enforcement against drugs, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, it was agreed that the (laws) related to ketum are amended,” he said.
The proposed amendment to the Act, said Zainuddin, was conveyed to MPs on March 9 during a meeting chaired by the Health Ministry.
Most of them agreed to the change, he added.
Among the proposed amendments are for the definition and special classification of plants with psychotropic components as “psychoactive plants” and to come up with a new Fourth Schedule of Poisons under the Act.
The amendments will also see the introduction of offences involving pyschoactive plants, which can carry a fine of up to RM200,000 or a maximum jail time of seven years, or both.
Zainudin said the leaves of the ketum plant – Mitragyna speciosa Korth – were traditionally used during confinement and to treat problems such as worms and lack of appetite, especially in the northern part of the peninsula.
“At present, no traditional or pharmaceutical use of ketum leaves has been registered under the Health Ministry,” he said.
Zainudin also advised those planting, processing and using ketum to cease their operations because so far, there was no scientific research to show that its use brought any health benefits.
“In fact, its effect is worse if taken by students or youths because it is capable of leading to hallucinations and violent tendencies to the point that it can endanger their lives and that of others,” he added.
Zainudin said district and land offices have the right to take action against ketum “plantations” because no land has been approved for the planting of the trees.
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