Congressman Rodolfo Albano is elated after his bill seeking to legalize and regulate the use of marijuana for medical purposes hurdled the first step. The House Committee on Health endorsed House Bill 180 (Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act) for plenary debates. 

His elation is understandable. The Isabela first district representative filed the same bill during the 16th Congress but it never got past the committee level. He is optimistic it will get congressional approval, adding even President Rodrigo Duterte was behind legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

A counterpart bill must be approved at the Senate and the two versions reconciled for the proposed measure to land in Malacanang for the President's signature.

HB 180 will allow "compassionate and right of access to medical cannabis", as well as pave the way for research on its medicinal properties.

At present, cannabis, cannabis resin and extracts and tinctures are classified as dangerous drugs under Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Under the proposed law, Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers shall be established and registered with the Department of Health, and will be authorized to "acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, sell, supply, and dispense cannabis."

The Medical Cannabis Safety Compliance Facilities, meanwhile, is tasked to conduct "scientific and medical research on the medical use of cannabis and provide testing services."

If enacted into law, qualified patients will be issued identification cards - although minors (below 18 years old) will only be issued an ID once a legal guardian undergoes orientation regarding the benefits and risks of using cannabis.

According to the World Health Organization, cannabis may impair cognitive development, psychomotor performance, chronic bronchitis, airway injury, lung inflammation and impaired pulmonary defense against infection. 

As safeguards, the bill sets limits on the use of cannabis. Patients undergoing treatment cannot use cannabis in public places, operate motor vehicles and aircraft, or engage in any task that requires motor functions.

In spite its warning, the WHO acknowledged the benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes. "Several studies have demonstrated the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illness such as cancer and AIDS."

Health chief Paulyn Ubial has previously declared her support for the proposed act.

“We are for making it available for restricted and highly regulated medical use like what we have for morphine and other highly addictive drugs,” she was quoted by the Philippine Star as saying.

Congressman Albano believes 90 percent of his colleagues in the House of Representatives will throw their support behind the proposed measure, especially when they are made aware of its salient points. MIMS

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