MANILA – House Bill 4477 or the Compassionate Use of the Medical Cannabis Bill has already made headlines and sparked debate among Filipinos.
Authored by Isabela Representative Rodolfo Albano III, the bill seeks to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes and, make safe cannabis-based medicines accessible and affordable to qualifying patients.
But why does it face such a stark opposition?
In an interview with ANC Headstart host Karen Davila, Rep. Albano said the major cause of opposition against the bill is that many people think that it also seeks to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.
He said that this misconception must be corrected so as not to cause panic among Filipinos and give the measure a chance.
"Dapat nating ihiwalay ‘yung legitimate medical needs sa recreational use. ‘Dun nagkakagulo eh. Kapag pumapasok na ‘yung recreational use ng marijuana, ‘dun na natatakot ang simbahan, natatakot ang mga magulang. Dun na natatakot ang lahat ng tao.”
Albano said the bill does not run counter to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug.
"No, as long as you use it for medical use. ‘Eto nandito sa Section 2 [of the bill]: ‘The government shall, however, aim to achieve a balance in the national drug control program so that people with legitimate medical needs.’”
He said studies conducted in the United States show cannabis can help patients who are suffering from various medical conditions such as chronic epilepsy, muscle spasms, severe nausea, inflammatory bowel diseases, gastri-oesophageal reflux conditions, secretory diarrhea, cancer and other debilitating diseases.
"They’ve done research already, especially in the States, there have been researches already. And in Israel, there are [researches]. In the University of California, may findings na it’s even used for HIV-AIDS, spinal cord injuries. Marami nang findings.”
Albano admitted that there is no local research about the possible medical benefits of marijuana since cannabis is still illegal in the country.
However, he said many Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medicines in the US imported to the Philippines also do not undergo local research and testing.
"Wala tayong findings. We don't do clinical trials. That's the problem so we have to get it abroad. Ang problema rito, like me, I’m on a drug for hypertension, wala namang clinical trials yung drugs na nanggagaling sa US for hypertension. Eh kung maghihintay tayo ng FDA-approved na hypertensive drug, ‘e di mamamatay lahat ng tao rito."
CANNABIS REGULATORY AUTHORITY
In order to fully regulate the medical use of cannabis in the country, Albano said that a cannabis regulatory board will be established.
The board, which is fully funded by government, will issue licenses to Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers.
Should the bill become a law, Albano said cannabis-based medicine will only be available in ingestible and liquid forms.
He said the bill does not decriminalize smoking marijuana or using it for recreational purposes.
"They will grow it [cannabis plants] in the Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers only. That’s why we're not decriminalizing the drug eh."
Albano revealed that contrary to popular belief, there are Filipino doctors who are willing to study cannabis and prescribe it to their patients.
He also said that Health Secretary Enrique Ona is supportive of the bill.
MEDICAL EXPERT: PROVE MARIJUANA’S EFFICACY FIRST
Meanwhile, Philippine College of Addiction Medicine (PCAM) Dr. Manuel Panopio said there is no problem with the medical use of marijuana so long as it is proven to be beneficial to patients.
"Wala namang magiging problema sa medical marijuana as long as you can provide us the exact dosing and as long as it's for the benefit of many," he said.
He, however, advised that cannabis-based medicine must undergo the same process as other medicines.
"Since we physicians have our professional obligations to our patients and considering that our patients deserve to receive high quality medical care, it is of utmost importance that cannabis-based medicines meet the same standards as any other medicines," he said.
Panopio claimed there are other medicines that are more effective than marijuana in terms of treating diseases like seizure and epilepsy.
“There are some medications that are more potent than marijuana that can treat medical conditions like seizures and epilepsy. Now, as of 2014, there is already a drug that is being used which is under research – the epidiolex. So epidiolex is a cannabis-based product. So pinag-aaralan nila ngayon ‘yan.”
He also provided other alternatives to the bill. He said that in 1992, the Department of Health issued Administrative Order No. 4 which provides a compassionate special permit for the restricted use of drugs for qualified patients.
Relatives of the patients can apply for the special permit upon the referral of the doctor.
Another option presented by Panopio is the importation of FDA-approved drugs from the US. That way, cannabis plants will not be grown in the Philippines.
Panopio echoed the position of the PCAM on the legalization of the medical use of marijuana, saying that it should be decided by experts alone.
"We firmly believe that the legal approval of marijuana should not be decided upon the voting public. It should be decided upon the knowledgeable people – both in the medical field and the judiciary naman. This is of utmost importance."