Solon: Medical marijuana bill has safeguards to prevent abuse

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 2) — The author of the medical cannabis bill assured on Monday that there will be safeguards to prevent the abuse of medical marijuana.

Isabela First District Representative Rodolfo Albano III on Monday said House Bill 180, or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, only allows authorized physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to those who are suffering from debilitating diseases like cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and post traumatic stress disorder, among others.

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Dr. Socorro L. Reyes, Albano's chief policy adviser, added medical marijuana cannot be bought in ordinary pharmacies.

"The bill sets up Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers (MCCC) that are hospital-based and these are the ones that can dispense," Reyes said.

Not legalizing marijuana

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in a statement on Saturday expressed its support for the medical marijuana bill, along with recommendations to avoid the abuse of the medicine.

PDEA Director Aaron Aquino said the bill should specify that only the use of medical cannabis in tablet or capsule form will be deemed legal.

Congressman Albano maintained no marijuana can be given in its raw form, which is smoked and used recreationally.

"As long as it is not given in its raw form, then walang abuse na mangyayari. Hindi mo pwedeng i-smoke," Albano said.

[Translation: As long as it is not given in its raw form, there will be no abuse.You cannot smoke it.]

What's next for the bill

After the controversial bill hurdled the Committee on Health on September 25, Albano believes he has the support of most lawmakers in the House.

The medical marijuana bill has no counterpart in the Senate. Albano said senators are only waiting for the House bill so they can adopt it, with revisions.

Some senators have already expressed support, Albano said, citing "younger" senators JV Ejecrcito, Grace Poe, and Risa Hontiveros.

"Yung mga matanda, baka …. siguro , they should be open minded about it. Yun na lang hinihingi ko," Albano said.

[Translation: The older ones, maybe they should be open minded about it. That's the only thing I'm asking for.]

Marijuana, also known as hash or indian hemp, is illegal in the country under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Albano reiterated that the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act does not aim to legalize marijuana, and there is no need to amend the Dangerous Drugs law, as suggested by a senator. 

"Kasi ang gusto ni Senator Tito Sotto, is to amend na lang yung Dangerous Drugs Act. Sabi ko, hindi naman pwedeng basta basta i-amend yung Dangerous Drugs Act because we're not decriminalizing the drug. So, the Dangerous Drugs Act na yan, it still stays," Albano said.

[Translation: Sen. Tito Sotto wants to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act. I told him, we cannot just amend the law because we are not decriminalizing the drugs. It still stays.]

Pain management

Medical marijuana, according to studies abroad, does not necessarily cure debilitating diseases, but only manages the pain or its other symptoms.

Albano, who originally filed the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana in 2014, said the possible treatment will not only help the patient.

"It eases also the suffering of not only the patient, but also the family," Albano said.

Reyes said they have talked to parents of children who are having epilepsy who want to try medical marijuana.

"They are saying that they have tried other drugs and that their children's seizures has not really been reduced," Reyes said. "They want to try, they want to have another option from studies in other countries that patients with similar conditions as in their children have actually been cured, or have been better."

Reyes said the medical, therapeutic, and palliative effects of  marijuana are "quite established" since 26 countries, and 29 states in the United States, have already adopted a medical cannabis law.

However, no research or clinical trial has been conducted locally. The bill will also open up the possibility of research and clinical trials in the Philippines.