House of Representatives

House revives talks to decriminalize marijuana use in the Philippines

Dwight de Leon
House revives talks to decriminalize marijuana use in the Philippines

Photo from House of Representatives; Graphics by David Castuciano/Rappler

Former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who used profanity to describe the classification of cannabis as a dangerous drug, argues that its legalization would generate revenues for the government

MANILA, Philippines – A House panel for the first time in the 19th Congress under the Marcos administration took up a bill seeking to decriminalize the production, sale, and use of cannabis in the Philippines.

The lower chamber’s dangerous drugs committee chaired by Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte’s 2nd District moved to form a technical working group (TWG) with the health committee to flesh out the bill filed by former House Speaker and current Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez.

In his speech, Alvarez used colorful language to describe the current state of cannabis in the country.

“The classification of cannabis and its derivatives, as a dangerous drug, is bullsh*t. It makes no sense at all. And we must correct this absurdity,” he said on Tuesday, February 21.

“If the government allows harmful products like alcoholic beverages, cancer-causing cigarettes, and diabetes-bringing sugary drinks, why can’t we decriminalize the production and sale of a substance that is less harmful, has many benefits, and can be a source of government revenue?” Alvarez said.

The former House leader also argued that legalizing marijuana in the Philippines would generate wealth that the government can use for its programs and projects.

“We can decriminalize cannabis and its derivatives, and we can collect billions worth of taxes from its production and sale. We can use the added revenues to build more roads and bridges, more classrooms and hospitals, and more public service in pursuit of the common good. We can also use the extra taxes collected to help our country pay for our deep debt brought on by the economic crisis during the pandemic,” Alvarez said.

What the bill says

Republic Act No. 9165, also known as the amended Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, lists cannabis as a dangerous drug and substance.

Individuals convicted of cultivating marijuana, and possessing 10 grams of marijuana resin or marijuana resin oil, as well as 500 grams or more of marijuana, face a fine of up to P10 million and life imprisonment.

Alvarez’s proposal, House Bill No. 6783, seeks to exclude cannabis, cannabis resin and extracts, and tinctures of cannabis from the list.

Batanes Representative Ciriaco Gato expressed concern that the delisting of cannabis would pave the way for the recreational use of marijuana.

“I am thinking that while alcohol and tobacco are really bad, marijuana is also bad. As to which is more harmful, I think it depends on the amount,” Gato said, arguing that a variety of cannabis has negative effects. “Marijuana just like alcohol has some effects from a medical and social standpoint.”

Outlook

The proposal is in its early stages, and it is not among the priority bills of the Marcos administration.

The dangerous drugs committee also seeks to conduct further review on the subject.

“I would like to listen first to the opinions of all the members, and opinions of the experts,” Barbers told Rappler when asked whether he would back the measure and eventually defend it at the House plenary.

“A lot of discussions will have to be made because if the proponent’s intention is to delist it, there must be some basis as to why he wants to delist it,” he said. “Before we pursue the idea of making it available for sale, it has to be delisted [from the list of dangerous drugs].”

Aside from the bill filed by Alvarez, there are also multiple bills referred to the health committee seeking to legalize medical marijuana.

That panel has yet to take up such measures, chairman Gato told Rappler, but he said he is in favor of medical, regulated marijuana.

The House, led by then-Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the 17th Congress, already approved a bill seeking to legalize medical marijuana, but the proposal languished in the Senate. The lower chamber in the 18th Congress, however, failed to move past the TWG level. – Rappler.com

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers the House of Representatives and the Commission on Elections for Rappler. Previously, he wrote stories on local government units.