Supporters of moves to decriminalize marijuana in the Philippines, including regular and occasional smokers, were euphoric over reports that the health committee of the House of Representatives had endorsed a bill allowing the use of cannabis to treat chronic or debilitating health conditions.
Social media was abuzz after the news broke online on Tuesday. “I never thought I’d say this, but thank you, Congress,” said one post on Facebook.
“Let’s start planting,” another added.
One corporate executive beamed with excitement as he lit a pipeful of high-grade grass in the comfort of a friend’s home.
“Wow, man,” he quipped while holding the smoke in his lungs, “what a beautiful world this would be.”
Oops, not so fast!
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, principal author of the measure, said the proposed Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act would expressly prohibit marijuana smoking.
“It is very clear in the bill that you can’t smoke weed per se. You cannot even dispense it in its raw form and say, ‘just use this for tea.’ It has to be in medicinal form,” Albano told the Inquirer.
Medical marijuana comes in various forms, including vapor, capsules, lozenges, dermal patches and oil. Albano said it could also be in tablet and “edible” form.
The most widely used worldwide is cannabis oil—whose main ingredient, cannabidiol (CBD), has no psychoactive effects unlike regular marijuana.
The proposed law would to help ease the condition of people with various ailments.
Albano said scientific evidence showed that medical marijuana could control epileptic seizures, manage pain in multiple sclerosis and arthritis, treat symptoms associated with HIV-AIDS and provide palliative care for end-stage cancer patients.
Clinical trials also indicate the medical potential of cannabis use, including preventing cancer, managing anxiety, slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, and controlling muscle spasms and tremors, he said.
“I am looking forward to the swift passage of this bill. Everyday it’s a struggle to survive through pain and additional struggle to access oil from illegal sources,” cancer patient Angelina told the Inquirer.
Cielz, mother of a patient with brain tumor, said: “I strongly believe that medical cannabis can replace conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.”
Hope for patients
Romeo sees hope that his son would be able to cope with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. “Finally, a medicine that can help alleviate his debilitating condition,” he said.
Donnabel Cunanan, a dentist, said: “I am excited especially for my daughter Julia who has epilepsy, global developmental delay and cerebral palsy.”
An officer of the Philippine Cannabis Compassion Society (PCCS) — an organization of cannabis advocates, mostly patients (called “hopefuls”) and parents of children wanting access to medical marijuana — said she had “mixed emotions.”
“I still feel the loss of every hopeful we lost along the way, but the gesture from the House committee on health to move the bill to second reading is more than enough to be hopeful that the bill will be passed,” she said.
PCCS member Lui Manansala, a popular TV and film actress, told the Inquirer that barring any problems getting the bill approved by the House, the next hurdle would be in the crafting of a parallel Senate bill before the versions are harmonized and then signed into law by President Duterte, who has said he supported medical marijuana.
Dr. Jorge Ignacio, head of the Cancer Institute of the Philippine General Hospital and a supporter of the legalization of marijuana, suggested that patients seeking medical cannabis “be enrolled as research subjects for proper inclusion and exclusion criteria, result monitoring and reporting of adverse effects.”
“We can start with research, where patients can gain access to it. There are patients who need it. We cannot turn our eyes in the other direction. There is a need for it,” he told the Inquirer earlier this year.
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