In a notable departure from the position taken by his predecessors, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa told the 19th Congress he supports the bill legalizing the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), a senior lawmaker said.
Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, in a statement, said this declaration was a notable shift, as Department of Health (DOH) representatives had previously opposed the legalization of medical cannabis in past congressional discussions.
Villafuerte reiterated that CBD is derived from the marijuana plant and is non-addictive, lacking the psychoactive properties that produce a “high” experienced by recreational users.
Two committees of the House of Representatives kicked off their joint discussions before the congressional break on nine pending bills seeking to legitimize the medical use of marijuana.
These bills include Villafuerte’s proposal—House Bill (HB) 4208—to create a state agency to oversee the production and marketing for export of the non-addictive CBD that has no psychoactive property that produces a “high” like that experienced by marijuana users.
When Villafuerte, who is the majority leader of the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA), asked Herbosa during the recent CA hearing on his ad interim appointment as head of the DOH whether he supports the legal use of cannabis oil for medical purposes, the DOH Secretary said “yes.”
“We are in favor of the legalization of the medical use of marijuana and its products, your honor,” Herbosa said.
This prompted Villafuerte to say at the CA hearing, “Thank you for saying that. I’m very happy because I strongly advocate this. Over 60 countries all over the world have already legalized medical cannabis. And I don’t know why the Philippines is delaying this. What do the 60 countries know that we don’t? The only news that I have read from these 60 countries is that medical cannabis is very beneficial, and, secondly, their revenues have increased from its medical use.”
Currently, Herbosa said “a compassionate use permit is indeed granted by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], but the process is quite cumbersome, as it requires a doctor to request the necessary paperwork from the FDA before medical cannabis can be imported.”
Moreover, Villafuerte noted the importance of accessible and affordable medical cannabis for conditions such as epilepsy syndromes, cancer treatment, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
Establishing the Philippine Cannabis Development Authority (PhilCADA) to regulate the domestic production of CBD is expected to enhance accessibility and affordability for Filipinos suffering from various diseases, he said.
Villafuerte pointed out that the United States FDA has already approved medications containing cannabis, indicating its potential benefits.
The lawmaker, meanwhile, encouraged the DOH to explore the subject further and make it a policy, not just a personal opinion.
Villafuerte emphasized that HB 4208 does not advocate or authorize recreational cannabis use but focuses on the legitimate medical application of CBD.
He underscored the necessity of creating PhilCADA to ensure effective research, cultivation, and Villafuerte also highlighted the global trend toward medical cannabis legalization, pointing out that countries like China, Thailand, and Singapore are either producing or considering the legalization of medical marijuana. Thailand, for example, approved medical marijuana use despite having strict drug laws.
Villafuerte clarified the difference between CBD, a non-addictive and non-intoxicating strain of cannabis, and THC, the psychoactive component that leads to addiction. CBD is legal in 31 US states and 59 other countries, while THC remains largely illegal worldwide.
He said the measure is expected to benefit not only ailing Filipinos in need of the revolutionary treatment offered by the weed but also the national government in terms of export revenues that can be tapped from its potential $75 billion market, as medical cannabis is now legal and used for health, scientific, and research reasons in 60 countries across the globe.