Sotto: Show proof on 'medical marijuana'

By Fidea Encarnacion and Janine Asuncion,

Posted at Feb 27 2014 11:00 PM | Updated as of Feb 28 2014 07:00 AM

Senator Tito Sotto wants proponents of the campaign to legalize marijuana-based medicine to show new scientific proof.

MANILA - Senate Deputy Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Thursday said he will change his mind on marijuana-based medicine if people calling for its legalization will show new scientific proof on its benefits.

In a policy forum organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Dangerous Drugs entitled "Medical Cannabis: Is It About Time?", Sotto changed his position on the issue of medical marijuana.

Sotto said he now supports legalizing the specific ingredient in marijuana that would benefit people struck with particular illnesses.

“For that particular ingredient in marijuana, I will change my position. For example, heroin, opium poppy-- [they're] illegal, but morphine out of opium poppy is allowed. [If] you’re talking about that particular ingredient in marijuana, and you extract it and you want to legalize it, by all means, go ahead," he said.

Sotto, however, rejected the phrase "medical marijuana" and wants proponents to use "cannabidiol," or the active ingredient.

"Medical marijuana is a misnomer. [Let’s] legalize cannabidiol, but don’t tell me we’ll legalize marijuana. If that is scientifically proven, I will even help you bring it before the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs to prove to them -- if we can prove [that] cannabidiol can cure and is therapeutic," he said.

Belmonte: No need to legalize use

Rep. Vicente Belmonte, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs and Oversight Committee on Dangerous Drugs Act, said that based on the provisions of Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, he believes that there is no need to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

“The stand of the committee is… as long as the benefit of that medical marijuana will outweigh the risk of being abused because of that addicting component, I don’t even believe that there’s a need to legalize medical marijuana," Belmonte said.

"[It] is very clear in RA 9165 that for the purposes of research, you can apply. [It is the same] in the case of patients who are suffering those different illnesses [where they] can avail of the Compassionate Use provision.”

Clinical testing specialist Dr. Raymond Corral said that what they are pushing for is a controlled legalization of marijuana-based medication, and not the plant itself.

This would help research groups to proceed with trials and further study the effects of marijuana-based medicine.

“It is the controlled legalization that we are after, and not the legalization of marijuana as a plant. There is a big difference po kasi. We in the research industry cannot proceed to any clinical trials if we are not legally allowed to do so."

Corral said that although some studies show the positive effects of medical marijuana, more evidence-based results must be done to verify its possible long-term benefits.

"There are so many compounds that can be extracted from cannabis. So, we cannot say that it is ineffective, or we cannot say that it is effective kung wala tayong basis. It should be evidence-based.”

Human rights lawyer and former Senator Rene Saguisag said one of the problems with regard to medical marijuana is the stigma attached to the plant and people who use it.

Saguisag said those who would need the marijuana-based medication must be seen as patients, which will set them apart from those who use it for recreation.

“[Iyung mga] gumagamit ng marijuana, [not all] are bad people, they are not criminals. So they should be seen as patients, not as criminals to be prosecuted, jailed, stigmatized, and denied," he said.