PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Cabinet has no objections to the growing of hemp and ketum for medical purposes, said the country's deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin on Sunday (April 24).
He said this was an indication that the Cabinet had given the "green light" adding that it was good news for those in the medical field.
In a report by Malaysian daily Sinar Harian on Sunday, Mr Zahidi was quoted as saying that discussions will be held on the matter with Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
"However I would like to stress that this is not approval to just consume ketum water, but only for its use in the medical field. The public must not be confused," he said.
Mr Zahidi added that the demand for hemp and ketum is high in the international market and there are currently three countries that are the main producers of hemp.
"If Malaysia becomes the fourth market provider, it is very large and profits can also be high. One acre of hemp can bring in more than RM3,000 (S$950), so 10 acres can bring at least RM30,000," he said.
Ketum is a plant that has stimulant and opioid properties, similar to illegal and addictive substances.
The issue of legalising medical cannabis came under the spotlight after popular local singer Yasin Sulaiman, who performs nasyid or Islamic devotional songs, was charged with growing and trafficking cannabis, which he says he uses for medical purposes. He faces the death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty under Malaysia's tough drug laws.
In November last year, Health Minister Khairy announced that products containing cannabis used for medicinal purposes can be imported and used in Malaysia if the product is in compliance with the law.
But others argue that medical cannabis could be misused.
"There are concerns that it may cause more harm than benefit," medical activist Suhazeli Abdullah, advisory board chairman of the Ibnu Sina's Medical Charity Organisation of Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation, wrote in a Facebook post on March 29.
On April 12, thecountry's Medical Cannabis Caucus (MCC) said that it had held a meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to discuss policy issues related to the hemp industry, medical cannabis and ketum for use in Malaysia.
It added the prime minister had given a positive response to the issues raised, and that the matter would be dealt with in further detail in a Cabinet meeting.
The MCC has previously said it values the global hemp, ketum, and medical cannabis industry at RM60 billion (S$19.4 billion).