Solon Finally Supports Bill for Medical Marijuana

In mid-October, an opposition solon voiced significant opposition to the proposed marijuana law, which was up for deliberation in the plenary. Of House Bill 6517, or the Act Providing Filipinos Right of Access to Medical Marijuana, Deputy Minority Leader and Representative of Buhay, Lito Atienza, said it would “turn the Philippines into a zombie nation.”

Atienza expressly cautioned against the “backdoor decriminalization” of cannabis through a proposed bill that would encourage the medical use of a banned and highly addictive drug. “If other countries wish to destroy themselves by enabling medical marijuana, then let them create their own problems,” Atienza said in a statement. “We Filipinos certainly do not want to degenerate into a nation of zombies.”

Back then, the House committee on health, comprising of 63 members, approved the Cannabis Act, the main purpose of which was to ensure Filipinos had access to medical cannabis for therapeutic use. According to Atienza at the time, “We expect the bill to be put to the floor when Congress resumes session next month, and we intend to fight it forcefully.”

The Philippine Medical Association, an organization of Filipino doctors, rejected the bill out of hand, declaring it “contrary to the policy of the State to safeguard the wellbeing of its citizenry.” Atienza explained, “Advocates of the bill argue that Filipino families should be allowed to use marijuana to provide artificial, mind-altering ‘highs’ to depressed teenagers, as well as children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, when what these vulnerable kids truly need and deserve is extra loving care and emotional support.”

The Buhay representative also warned that criminal drug traffickers are likely to exploit ‘medical cannabis’ as a cover to encourage use of the drug recreationally and expand their insidious trade. Atienza said, “What makes marijuana even more menacing is that many young Filipinos are known to first experiment on the substance before they eventually use harder drugs.”

At the time, Atienza concluded that, “Marijuana is a gateway drug. Pushers in schools purposely use marijuana to entice students to use drugs for the first time, before they are introduced to shabu.” Now, however, the solon is expressing support for the latest revised version of the bill, which will allow the use of medical cannabis for medical purposes.

Last week, Senator J.V. Ejercito finally approved the bill, saying that, “If it will improve the conditions of any patient to prolong life, specifically of cancer patients and people with epileptic conditions, then I am open to it.”  Currently, the Philippines has Cannabis sativa classified a prohibited drug. Proposed House Bill 180, or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, will allow the use of cannabis for pain relief and other medical conditions.

In a statement, Ejercito said, “There have been studies in the United States pertaining to the use of marijuana, wherein some states have allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes. For our country, however, I am only in favor of medicinal use and not for recreational purposes.” The bill passed the House committee on health, of which Ejercito acts as chairperson.

In pointing out concerns, Ejercito noted, “Controversial as it may be in the Senate due to the strong opposition of Senator Tito Sotto and others, I still favor its use for medicinal purposes, but only if the subsequent safeguards and parameters are met first to make sure it will not be abused.” However, the Senator made it clear the bill is still subject to review by the Senate.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the PDEA, has insisted that the proposed legislative measure be extremely specific, and that it only legalizes the use of capsule or tablet preparations of the medicinal compounds in marijuana, and not the plant itself. The Senator was visiting the Philippine Military Academy over the weekend, which was the reason for the visit.

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