�� House passes medical cannabis bill on second reading
Raising hopes for families, advocates, supportive docs

House passes medical cannabis bill on second reading

/ 05:34 AM May 24, 2024

House passes medical cannabis bill on second reading

Cannabis sativa is the most abused narcotic in the country. —FILE PHOTO

The House of Representatives has approved on second reading a bill that would legalize the medical use of cannabis or marijuana, described by a lawmaker as a “lifeline” for thousands of indigent Filipino patients with chronic pain.

During Wednesday’s plenary session, lawmakers voted viva voce to pass on second reading House Bill No. 10439, or the draft “Act Providing the Right of Access to Medical Cannabis, Establishing the Medical Cannabis Office and Providing Funds Therefor.”

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In his sponsorship speech, House committee on dangerous drugs chair Robert Ace Barbers maintained that the passage of the measure was crucial for patients suffering from debilitating illnesses and seeking legal access to medical marijuana or cannabis-based medicine.

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“If you look at the last five years alone, we hear about one nation after another rewriting their history by reversing their prohibitions against cannabis and making it available as a form of medical treatment for a long list of medical conditions,” said the Surigao del Norte lawmaker.

Legal in over 60 countries

He said cannabis-based medicine is legal in over 60 countries and is used to treat various medical conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines and other types of chronic pain, including that in end-stage cancer.

“In fact, in many cases, cannabis is used not as an alternative but as a last resort when all else has failed,” the lawmaker added.

Barbers said that apart from benefiting patients with chronic pain the measure would establish a new industry, creating new jobs and revenue sources for the government.

He said the legalization of the medical use of cannabis was intended to create a means for patients to gain access to it in the same way that they had access to other pharmaceutical products.

“By no means is this bill a gateway to the recreational use of cannabis,” Barbers said.

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Fiercest opponents

One of the fiercest opponents of the bill, surprisingly, is the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), which warned that once the law is passed, it would “open the floodgates for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”

Health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon, who backs the PMA position against the bill, said it was being “railroaded without listening to the medical community.”

“Good luck to all of us,” he told the Inquirer.

He repeated the PMA’s stance that the harmful effects of cannabis outweigh its supposed benefits.

There are already sufficient regulations for the compassionate use of marijuana, he said. However, proponents of the bill say the application for compassionate use is so complicated that it is practically impossible to obtain cannabis medicine.

Leachon believes that the medical cannabis bill will usurp the duties and obligations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“What will happen to the law if, later on, they would encounter adverse events with the medical cannabis? The best way is to let the FDA evaluate the efficacy and safety of the product. Public safety is paramount,” he said.

Beneficiaries

Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano, a longtime proponent of medical cannabis, said it would benefit poor patients, especially those with cancer, who cannot afford regular medicine.

“This is not just a legislative proposal. It is a lifeline for thousands of patients, including those suffering from epilepsy, cancer and the like,” he pointed out. The bill was a “vital initiative,” he said.

Under the bill, the use of marijuana for medical purposes would be allowed for qualified patients with debilitating or nondebilitating medical conditions or symptoms and access would only be available through prescription and medical supervision of an accredited medical cannabis physician.

The draft measure would establish regulations for medical cannabis cultivation, manufacture, and distribution for medical and research purposes, as well as its prescription and dispensation to patients.

Closely monitored

It will create a regulatory body, the Medical Cannabis Office, that will be under the Department of Health and work with the Dangerous Drugs Board.

The second reading in Congress is the period when a bill is extensively discussed and fine-tuned. Once it passes that stage, the draft measure would be set for third reading or final approval by the chamber through nominal voting.

Chuck Manansala, chair of the CannAlliance PH, told the Inquirer that his group closely monitored the House measure. Wednesday’s progress, he said, was a “significant step” toward final passage of the bill by the House, as it did in 2019.

“With a counterpart bill in the Senate, we have very high confidence that a medical cannabis law will be signed by the President this year,” he said. “Patients have been waiting for access to the medicine in the past 10 years. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. Padayon!”

Dr. Gem Marq Mutia, president of the Philippine Society of Cannabinoid Medicine, said his group was happy with both the record number of medical cannabis bills filed and the progress in the legislative mill.

“The current consolidated version, among the medical cannabis bills filed in recent years, is the most progressive yet. We are hopeful it will hurdle the lower house once again,” said Mutia, whose group is comprised of over 100 doctors.

Senate counterpart

A similar measure, the draft “Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act,” was passed on the third and final reading by the House in January 2019, during the 17th Congress. But it was not passed into law then as the Senate did not have a matching bill.

This time, the House bill’s Senate counterpart, Senate Bill No. 2573, is due for a second reading in the plenary.

Sponsored by Sen. Robin Padilla, it was signed on March 20, 2024, by 13 senators, a majority of the chamber’s members.

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Others who supported the bill were Senators Christopher Go, Ronald dela Rosa, Juan Edgardo Angara, JV Ejercito, Jinggoy Estrada, Mark Villar, Lito Lapid, Raffy Tulfo, Ramon Revilla Jr., Grace Poe, Aquilino Pimentel III and Joel Villanueva. —WITH REPORTS FROM DEXTER CABALZA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH

TAGS: House of Representatives, marijuana

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