By: Soft Secrets, April 23, 2019

The president himself support the legalization of medical cannabis in the Philippines together with some Non-government organizations, senators and legislators. However, various medical groups and institutions debate the proposal, indicating its possible risk to the lives of Filipino citizens.  
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte now announces he will support any legislation to legalize medical marijuana, presenting a cannabis bill currently before the country’s House of Representatives a significantly higher indication of success.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo noted Duterte has already presented his view on several instances supporting the legalization of medical marijuana. 
“Since the President already made a statement that he’s in favor of limited use of marijuana… logically, then he will support… and sign any bill that would be consistent with his stand,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

The Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act

The Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which would legalize some forms of Medical Marijuana, had endured a difficult campaign to become law, but Duterte’s unspoken support unlocks the door to eventual permission.
The bill recommends that “the state shall legalize and regulate the medical use of cannabis which has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses to treat chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition.” Cultivating marijuana seeds at home for medicinal purposes is still punishable by law.


Qualification for medical cannabis use

To qualify for medical cannabis use, a patient must be diagnosed by a physician— licensed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) who is authorized to prescribe medical cannabis. If the bill becomes law, it would open access to Filipino patients for a comprehensive variety of uses.
The proposal recognizes the helpful and therapeutic uses of medical marijuana in treating debilitating medical conditions, such as Cancer Glaucoma, severe and chronic pain, severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Damage to the nervous system of the spinal cord, Epilepsy, and Seizures, Palliative care including those characteristics of HIV/AIDS, Severe nausea, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, Rheumatoid arthritis among others.

The administrative agency for medical cannabis

The country’s Department of Health (DOH) would be the main administrative agency supervising medical cannabis, including issuing licenses and keeping a registry of cannabis patients. The secretary of the DOH would be in charge of developing up with the required regulations to support the pending law. Department of Health is also mandated to conduct a suitable training program for physicians, pharmacists, and caregivers on medical cannabis. A medical cannabis research and safety compliance facility would also be organized to administer scientific and medical research on the medical use of marijuana.

Obtaining medical cannabis

According to the bill, medical cannabis would be obtainable only via pharmacists through the following facilities:
DOH-retained hospitals.
Specialty hospitals.
Private territory hospitals licensed and registered with the DOH for this purpose.
And still, smokable medical cannabis like the purple weed would be prohibited.

The Philippines current issues in Medical Marijuana

The University of the Philippines (UP) Manila presented other debates against the legalization. First, while there is inadequate data on marijuana’s efficacy to treat diseases, its adverse effects have been documented. Marijuana use may come with short-term effects such as drowsiness and anxiety. In the long run, it may raise the risk of respiratory diseases, memory loss, and dependence.
However, UP Manila accepts and recognizes studies that exhibit medical marijuana’s positive results on epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain in adults. The institution stated, however, that “the current evidence is still insufficient to fulfill drug regulatory approval requirements.”

Debate on the Senate

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III explained that under the Republic Act No. 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, the use of medical marijuana is already legal if practiced for proper medication. The law labels marijuana as a dangerous drug, but Section 16 permits medical laboratories and medical research centers to cultivate marijuana for medical experiences and research purposes.
A provision under the act asserts that patients can apply for a “compassionate special permit” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The permission allows unregistered drugs in the Philippines to be used for medication including medical cannabis. Because of this, Sotto states that there is no need to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana. Additionally, Senator Grace Poe stated that marijuana is prone to abuse.

Bottom line

The Department of Health (DOH) said that there is no thorough research yet on medical marijuana in the Philippines due to the absence of a law that classifies Medical Cannabis as a registrable product with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While various agencies are examining marijuana as an alternative medicine, FDA will have to wait for an enabling law that will facilitate medical marijuana to be a registrable product before they can actually consider providing resources into clinical researches and studies. The government also cannot spend money for a research on a product that cannot be registered in the Philippines.

Natalie Gray

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