The Philippines has a strict stance against marijuana and even calls it a “gateway drug” with the belief that it would lead users to abuse harder and more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. However, the country is taking a leap forward with a proposal to legalize and regulate marijuana for medical purposes.
The House of Representatives Committee on Health has already approved and endorsed House Bill 180, also known as the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. The proposal, despite still having a long way to go before being enacted into law, is considered by many as a step in the right direction.
Provisions of the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act
Under the medical cannabis bill, the Department of Health has the task of setting up a network of centers that would distribute medical marijuana. These Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers will be in local hospitals and will be the ones allowed to dispense medical marijuana to registered patients or caregivers through a pharmacist.
The bill would also pave the way for medical marijuana research, which will be licensed through the DOH. Medical cannabis research facilities will be the ones responsible for cultivating and testing cannabis in secure and enclosed locations.
According to the bill, the Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers and the Medical Cannabis Safety Compliance Facilities should not be established within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing school’s, college’s, or university’s property line, and that security measures should be implemented to prevent theft of cannabis and unauthorized entry.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or PDEA will be responsible for drafting regulations under the program.
The bill lists qualifying medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis and other similar autoimmune disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Admission into hospice care will also allow individuals legal access to medical cannabis. It also provides that marijuana in its raw and flower form will not be permitted and that all cannabis-derived drugs must be extracted forms such as capsules, edibles, or tinctures.
This also means that smoking marijuana and using it for recreational purposes are strictly prohibited and offenders are still subject to penalties. The bill’s author, Representative Rodolfo Albano, clarified that marijuana is still considered a dangerous drug under Philippine law and that all the laws that pertain to its use and cultivation are not decriminalized.
Moreover, doctors need to be qualified in order to be able to prescribe medical marijuana to patients. They must also be professionally educated on the effects and benefits of medical cannabis. Meanwhile, patients who are qualified and have been certified by their doctors to use the substance will be issued special IDs.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that Albano introduced a medical cannabis bill. In May 2014, he filed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act or House Bill No. 4477, but it was ultimately junked during the 16th Congress. More than a year later and after certain changes have been made to the original draft, the bill – now known as House Bill 180 – was unanimously approved on the first reading.
Once the House committee on health has finalized its report, this will be deliberated for second reading before plenary. If it passes the second reading, the members of the House of Congress will then vote on the third and final reading. Afterwards, a counterpart measure will go through a similar process before the Senate. It will then go through a bicameral conference committee and must get the approval of both houses before it is presented to the president. It is the president who will sign the bill into law.
It can be recalled that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has already expressed during his campaign his support for medical cannabis.
A Joint Congressional Oversight Committee for Medical Use of Cannabis will be established to oversee the implementation of the bill once it is enacted.