Despite a tumultuous history with marijuana, yesterday, the Philippines house committee approved a measure to allow medical marijuana under very strict guidelines. The “Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act” was introduced by Isabela First District Rep. Rodolfo Albano. In a press release, Albano stated specifically the recreational use of marijuana is still illegal,

“It’s very clear in the bill. We’re not doing it for recreational purposes and we are not decriminalizing marijuana. Marijuana is still considered as a dangerous drug and all the laws pertaining to the use of marijuana and the planting of marijuana is not decriminalized.” (CNN-Philippines)

What the bill includes

Medical marijuana in the Philippines is no carte-blanche for cannabis use in the country. The bill forbids raw plant material in any form, dry flower or hash, stating the medical benefit only comes from the extracted oils of cannabis. Albano compares morphine as an extract of opium to the extracts from cannabis, which shows that despite making medical marijuana in the Philippines legal, there is still some room for education around cannabis.

Qualifying conditions include multiple diseases and chronic conditions deemed “debilitating”. Such conditions are:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Spinal Cord/Neurological Damage
  • Epilepsy
  • Terminal/End of Life Care
  • PTSD
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders

The list is left open-ended as well, stating the Department of Health can add other conditions as it deems them appropriate. A research facility to study medical marijuana in the Philippines will also be established as part of the requirements of the bill.

Prescriptions and Dispensing

Hospitals are the ones responsible for the medical use and dispensing of cannabis to patients. While the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency will oversee the entire dispensing operation, centers will be licensed by the Department of Health, as well as, the Food and Drug Administration.

Doctors prescribing medical marijuana in the Philippines must meet certain criteria according to the bill. Besides having a degree in medicine, an established relationship with the patient, and a license to prescribe medications, doctors must also have “a professional knowledge of the medical use of cannabis.”

The bill defines this specific cannabis medical curriculum including, the pharmacology of marijuana, contraindications, side effect, adverse reactions, overdose prevention, drug interactions, dosing, administration, risks and benefits, warnings and precautions, and abuse and dependence.

Patients must be at least 18 years old and they will have to carry an identification card to obtain medical marijuana in the Philippines. The bill also provides provisions to prevent any discrimination against a medical cannabis patient.

Sordid War on Drugs

Approval of the bill is somewhat ironic, as Philippine medical marijuana is approved only one day after voting to reinstate the war on drugs with penalties up to and including the death penalty – even for cannabis. In fact, President Duterte authorized the killing of anyone who is ‘obstructing justice’ and in just over six months, the death toll has reached 13,000. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest, demanding the President to stop the slayings.

Shortly after winning the presidency, Philippines President Duterte was outspoken about his stance for recreational marijuana versus medical cannabis. Stating for the PhilStar, “It remains to be a prohibited item and there’s always a threat of being arrested. If you choose to fight the law enforcement agency, you die.”