Should medical marijuana be legalized in PH?

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The pending bill, which was filed in May 2014, aims to legalize the compassionate use of marijuana.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Should medical marijuana be legalized in the Philippines?

This was the question that several law students from two universities in the country tried to answer on Tuesday (June 9) during a Law and Policy Debate at the House of Representatives.

Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, a medical and law expert, recognized the need for public discussions on the legalization of marijuana.

He noted that debating on a topic is a healthy method of testing ideas and proposal, and "a good way by which the legislative process can be vetted with various ideas being exchanged."

Dr. Junice L.D. Melgar, executive director of the Likhaan Center for Women's Health, agreed with Teehankee and explained that marijuana has several medical uses.

According to Melgar, marijuana can stop epileptic seizures and can help treat neuropathic diseases such as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. It can also treat loss of appetite after chemotherapy or following treatment for HIV or AIDS.

She also mentioned that marijuana has side effects like the alteration of moods. In fact, among psychotropic drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, marijuana is the most potent, Melgar added.

The doctor said that there are no reports of any deaths caused by toxicity or the intake of cannabis.

Melgar also stressed the importance of being informed about marijuana and its uses.

"Even for small part, if we don’t give them space for public discussion — for people to be enlightened about it — we will forever be ignorant."

Opposed by PDEA

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), on the other hand, has continued to oppose the legalization of marijuana.

Director General Arturo Cacdac, PDEA chief, said that there is a need to first resolve the issue of how the government would be able to regulate marijuana plantations to ensure that it would not be abused.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, meanwhile, acknowledged Cacdac's concern — saying that there really is a need to ensure that the country is capable of regulating marijuana production and distribution.

"Kailangan talaga mapakita from our med prac margining opinion ng mga magulang, pero para sa akin, kaya ba natin iimplmeneta ang batas na ito na di maaabuso," Poe said.

[Translation: "Medical practitioners should show us the margining opinions of parents on the matter, but for me, the question is: 'Can we really implement this law without any abuse?'"]

Pending bill

Amid debates on the matter, there is actually pending bill at the lower chamber, which aims to legalize the compassionate use of marijuana.

But since it was filed in May 2014, no committee hearing has been held on the bill at the lower chamber.

Bill co-author Rep. Leah Paquiz appealed to her colleagues to take a look at the draft bill.

"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," Paquiz said.

According to Paquiz, around 70 lawmakers already signed the bill as co-authors. But as the 16th Congress nears its end, the fate of the bill has turned grim.