Compassionate marijuana

HOUSE Bill (HB) 6517, otherwise known as the “Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act”, was unanimously endorsed by the House Committee on Health on October 2. Originally authored by Rep. Rodolfo T. Albano III of the First District, Isabela, the bill seeks to legalize and regulate the medical use of cannabis, which has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses to treat chronic or debilitating medical conditions.

“‘Cannabis’ refers to every kind, class, genus, specie of the plant Cannabis Sativa I., Cannabis americana, hashish, bhang, guaza, churris, garjab and embraces every kind, class and character of marijuana, whether dried or fresh and flowering, flowering or fruiting tops or any part or portion of the plant and seeds thereof, and all its geographic varieties, whether as a reefer, resin, extract, tincture or in any form whatsoever” (Section 3[a]).

“‘Medical cannabis’ refers to the use of cannabis, including its constituents, tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], and other cannabinoids, as a physician-recommended form of medicine or herbal therapy. Medical cannabis shall not be used in its raw form” (Section 3[f]).

“‘Debilitating medical condition’ refers to any disease that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe and chronic pain; severe nausea; seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those associated with multiple sclerosis. Debilitating medical conditions include the following diseases: (1) cancer; (2) glaucoma; (3) multiple sclerosis; (4) damage to the nervous system of the spinal cord, with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; (5) epilepsy; (6) positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; (7) post-traumatic stress disorder; (8) rheumatoid arthritis or similar chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorders; or (9) Diseases requiring admission into hospice care; and (10) any other debilitating medical condition or its treatment that is subsequently identified by the Department of Health [DOH] as recommended by a panel of doctors constituted for this purpose” (Section 3[c]).

“‘Medical use’ refers to delivery, possession, transfer, transportation or use of cannabis and its devices to treat or alleviate a registered qualified patient’s medical condition or symptoms associated with the patient’s debilitating disease or its acquisition, administration, cultivation or manufacturing for medical purposes” (Section 3[g]).

“‘Qualified Medical Cannabis Patient’ means a person who has been diagnosed by a certifying physician with bona fide relationship with the patient as having a debilitating medical condition and who, in the physician’s professional evaluation, should receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical use of cannabis.

HB 6517 further seeks to establish Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers licensed by the DOH based in DOH-retained hospitals, specialty hospitals and private tertiary hospitals, which can sell, supply and dispense cannabis to qualified patients or their caregivers through a pharmacist with an S3 license issued by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). It also provides for the creation of Medical Cannabis Research and Safety Compliance Facilities (MCRSCFs) licensed by the DOH to conduct scientific and medical research on the medical use of cannabis and provides testing services for its potency and contaminants. A registered MCRSCF shall cultivate or test cannabis in an enclosed, locked location at the physical address provided during the regulation process, which can only be accessed by their employees or agents.

Qualified medical patients will be issued identification cards by the DOH after they are certified by physicians with whom they have a bona fide relationship as having debilitating medical condition and should receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from the medical use of cannabis. The DOH will provide training for medical cannabis physicians.

The DOH, in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, shall be the principal regulatory agency. The PDEA shall have a key role in monitoring and regulating the dispensation of medical cannabis in health facilities.

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is provided for by both existing international and national law. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, provides in its Preamble: “Recognizing that the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provisions must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes.” On the other hand, the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 recognizes the medical use of drugs classified as dangerous drugs, including marijuana, when it provides in Section 2; “The government shall, however, aim to achieve a balance in the national drug-control program so that people with legitimate medical needs are not prevented from being treated with adequate amounts of appropriate medications, which include the use of dangerous drugs.” (Explanatory Note, HB 180)

HB 6517 further provides the penalty of a fine of P50,000 to P100,000 or higher at the discretion of the Court and imprisonment of six to 12 years for use of cannabis for purposes other than treatment of a debilitating medical condition.

President Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs campaign prohibits the use of all forms of illegal drugs, including marijuana. HB 6517 provides a legal loophole to the use of marijuana—just call it medicine!