House forms technical working group on medical marijuana bill
MANILA, Philippines – The House health committee on Tuesday, August 11, created a technical working group (TWG) that will tackle the proposed medical marijuana bill – a controversial measure contested by medical groups in the Philippines.
The TWG was created after Tuesday's heated committee hearing on House Bill 4477 or the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill – the first hearing since the bill was filed by Isabela 1st District Representative Rodolfo Albano III over a year ago.
Chuck Manansala of advocacy group Philippine Cannabis Compassion Society said the creation of the TWG is an important "step toward passage" since the committee did not "kill" the bill.
Aside from advocates, representatives from the Department of Health (DOH) and the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) were present on Tuesday to express their apprehensions over the bill.
"The DDB does not recommend or support the passage of the House bill," DDB Undersecretary Jose Marlowe Pedregosa told the panel. He cited the following reasons:
- "Marijuana is a dangerous drug, and it is detrimental to health and public welfare."
- It is included in the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a Schedule I drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. The Philippines is signatory to said convention.
- The existing laws and regulations of the DDB does not actually oppose medical marijuana, provided the medical marijuana has undergone strict procedures before it can be classified as medical marijuana.
'Not decriminalizing marijuana'
In a separate interview with Rappler after the hearing, Pedregosa said the bill does not clearly define what medical marijuana is. The board does not advocate marijuana in its raw form.
He also pointed out that Section 25 of the bill "advocates" smoking marijuana, but Albano – the bill's principal author – denied this.
"Hindi lahat puwedeng magtanim ng marijuana. 'Di natin dine-decriminalize, Schedule I pa rin ito…. Dangerous drug pa rin, hulihin niyo pa rin lalo pag 'di pasyente," he said.
(Not everyone can plant marijuana. We're not decriminalizing this. This is still a Schedule I drug....It's still a dangerous drug, and authorities can still arrest users, especially if they're not patients.)
Albano filed HB 4477 on May 26, 2014. Since then, the bill has gathered the support of 69 other lawmakers in the House. For the past year, advocates have also been conducting dialogues and debates on the need for medical marijuana in the Philippines.
Pedregosa argued that the bill is no longer needed since it is already covered by the country's existing laws.
"All you have to do is follow existing regulations, existing provisions of our laws, then we can accommodate the request of medical marijuana champions," he told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.
Despite its opposition, Pedregosa said the DDB is open to participate in discussions of the TWG.
The health department, for its part, said marijuana in its herbal form – the form used for recreational purposes – is not acceptable as medicine. But it is not closing its doors to the bill just yet. (READ: PH bishops OK marijuana use for the terminally ill)
"We're not saying yes or no, but we still have to show the facts, lay down the facts, and from there, let's discuss," Jasmin Peralta, program manager of DOH's Dangerous Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program, told Rappler. – Rappler.com