MANILA - (UPDATE) The House of Representatives passed on third and final reading Tuesday a proposed measure legalizing the use and research of medical marijuana in the country.
House Bill 6517 or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act seeks to provide "compassionate and right of access to medical cannabis and expanding research into its medicinal properties."
A total of 163 lawmakers voted "yes," five voted "no," while three others abstained.
No less than President Rodrigo Duterte, who is currently waging a war against illegal drugs, expressed support for the medical marijuana bill.
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also said she supports the bill, admitting she had used a marijuana-based pain patch to address pain in her cervical spine.
But Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III previously said a medical marijuana law is no longer needed because the Food and Drug Administration can already issue "special permits."
The senator also expressed concern that people who sell or use cannabis for recreation may take advantage of a law that legalizes the use of medical marijuana.
But the bill's author, Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano, earlier said the proposed measure seeks to make medical marijuana more accessible to people in need.
"It's expensive—about a thousand dollars. It's not affordable. It's not accessible and most of it are not available here. That's why we're making this law," he told ANC early Monday.
Albano also clarified that under the proposed measure, recreational use, growing, or possession of the marijuana plant would still be banned.
He said medical marijuana has been used to alleviate pain of people suffering from cancer or seizures, and to bring back the appetite of people suffering from HIV/AIDS.
A medical marijuana law, he added, would allow the government to grow and research marijuana's medicinal properties under very strict regulations.
For the proposed measure to progress, the Senate must pass its own version of the bill before the two chambers meet in a bicameral conference committee to ratify the legislation.
Some doctors have opposed medical cannabis, saying its efficacy has yet to be confirmed, though it has already been legalized in parts of the United States, Canada, and Poland, among others.
-with reports from RG Cruz and Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News