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Legalizing medical marijuana: 'Listen to patients'

MANILA, Philippines – Medical groups in the Philippines are opposed to a House bill seeking to legalize and regulate the medical use of marijuana in the country, but one advocate believes that doctors will be convinced once they listen to their patients.

"I am actually for the legalization of medical marijuana because of what I see among patients," Dr Junice Melgar, director and co-founder of Likhaan Center for Women's Health, said at an inter-university debate on House Bill 4477 or the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, on Tuesday, June 10.

 

Melgar, one of the judges of the debate, urged doctors to study the evidence more, especially patients' testimonies.

"I know that even in the US, they did a 90-degree turn only when they listened to the patients, and therefore, the patients' voice will be very important here," Melgar told Rappler after Tuesday's debate.

Under HB 4477, marijuana "has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses to treat chronic or deblitating disease or medical condition."

The bill is still pending with the House committee on health, but it has already garnered 69 co-authors to date.

More studies needed

As more sectors talk about medical marijuana, Melgar hopes the bill won't stall in Congress the way reproductive health (RH) law did. (READ: Solon: Let's start talking about medical marijuana)

"I remember the RH took 13, 14 years. It will probably [take] shorter for this one [HB 4477] because it's not so controversial, and you know that the Catholic Church has actually agreed to the compassionate side," she explained.

In 2014, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines expressed its support for the use of marijuana to ease the pain of the terminally ill.

Melgar also agreed with Pearl Simbulan, a debater from the Ateneo de Manila University Law School, who said that prohibiting medical marijuana in the country hampers research and development on the "better uses of marijuana." 

"Our problem is because it's illegal, it's very rare to have the good quality of evidence, so the evidence that we have are scanty; they're more personal anecdotes," Melgar explained. (READ: When medicines fail, marijuana is moms' last hope)

She added, "People are scared to do research on something that's illegal."

Isabela 1st District Representative Rodolfo Albano III, who filed the bill in 2014, told Rappler the fate of HB 4477 in the 16th Congress will depend on how fast lawmakers will settle the issue on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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