Marijuana: To be or not to be

day after President Duterte joked about using marijuana to keep him awake; he again reiterated his approval for the legalization of medical marijuana.

A couple of years back, the President replied when asked by a television reporter on the subject: “Medical marijuana, yes, because it is really an ingredient of modern medicine.  There are medicines being developed, or are now in the market, that contain marijuana for medical purposes.”

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that the President was in favor of “controlled” and “regulated use of marijuana for medical purposes.” The President strongly opposed to the use of marijuana as a recreational drug.

Should we allow medical marijuana to be legalized here in our country? This was what I posed in my social-media account recently. I received a lot of answers.

The first person to make his comment was a medical doctor. “Medical marijuana is used for ‘palliative care’ [for chronic pain, nausea for patients undergoing chemotherapy, certain seizure disorders, etc.],” he explained. “There are ‘conventional’ medicines with fewer side effects that can address these conditions. Legalizing medical marijuana is going to create more problems that it seeks to treat. We must be careful what we wish for.”

A friend, whose father had a cancer, shared this sentiment: “There are regulated drugs that you can buy in pharmacies that require prescription from doctors. I just can’t remember the color codes but when I was at the pharmacy, I was interrogated. Strict verification was done before I was given that strong pain reliever for my dad.  Should marijuana be legalized for medical purpose, it should follow the same regulation.”

A journalist from Cagayan de Oro City seemed to go for it. “If it’s for medication, why not?” To which another one added, “As long as it is used for medical purposes.”

Another journalist from Manila, a female, also voted for the legalization of medical marijuana. “A lot of cultures, including ours, have long used marijuana for its medicinal properties. It’s just like a cough syrup; it’s bad if you take too much. It’s time we harness marijuana’s medicinal properties.”

But there are those who oppose it. “So, you want more drug abuse in the Philippines?” one inquired. Another contemplated: “Cigarettes are more harmful than cannabis. So legal is not always ethical.”

It must be recalled that in 2014, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III filed House Bill no. 4477—the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. The Philippine Daily Inquirer described the bill as a “hotly-debated topic.” 

“We are at this stage, we have Filipinos who need care, we should give them compassionate care—this medical cannabis. There are a lot of medicines, but they are expensive,” Leah Paquiz, one of the bill’s coauthors, was quoted as saying.

The bill was rejected during the 16th Congress. But in 2017, the House of Representatives Committee on Health approved House Bill 180 or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.

“The legalization of HB 180 has a long way to go,” the web site observed. “It will likely be revised countless times and go through a series of debates and amendments. Then, it will go to a vote in the House of Representatives, and a counterpart will be voted on by the Senate. Only once it’s approved by both houses will it go before the president to either sign or veto. The bill has some vocal detractors, so it may take a while to pass.”

The web site said that only the Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers (MCCCs) and Medical Cannabis Research and Safety Compliance Facilities licensed by the Department of Health “will be authorized to cultivate medical marijuana.” In addition, “only MCCCs can distribute cannabis medications to patients. If the new law passes, only these facilities, medical marijuana patients and caregivers will be exempt from civil and criminal liability.”

The Cannabis Act has set number of conditions to qualify patients for medical marijuana treatments. Among the debilitating conditions included are cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage or intractable spasticity, post-traumatic stress disorder, human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or other chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorders, and admission to hospice care. 

It must be pointed out here that marijuana isn’t legalized yet in the country. The penalty for possession has some serious consequences, depending on the amount a person carries. If the authorities catch a person carrying ten grams or more, the penalty ranges from life in prison to the death penalty and a fine ranging from half a million to 10 million pesos.

If it is between 5 and 10 grams, the penalty ranges from 20 years to life imprisonment and a fine ranging from P400,000 to P500,000. If it is less than 5 grams, the penalty is 12 to 20 years in prison and a fine ranging from P300,000 to P400,000. By just possessing a drug paraphernalia and equipment, the penalty is six months to four years in prison and ranging from P10,000 to P50,000.

The year 2018 will soon end.  Newsweek believes 2018 will go down in history as “a year of global change. This is as far marijuana—known in the science world as Cannabis sativa—is concerned.

“We’ve seen massive changes overtake a global cannabis culture already establishing itself at a remarkable pace,” the American magazine pointed out. “Canada has joined Uruguay as the second country in the world to legalize cannabis for adult use, markets in the US are growing with every election season, and even countries like Lebanon—whose long-standing diplomatic efforts with the West and its drug warriors caused a long tradition of excellent cannabis to fall by the wayside—are rethinking their relationship to the plant.”

Meanwhile, former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez Tan is in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana. His reason: “More people in the Philippines are suffering from epilepsy and other neurological disorders. It is safer and cheaper way to treat patients.”


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