Senators: Ensure safeguards in medical marijuana bill

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

Both senators Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito and Imee Marcos cited the need to provide stricter safeguards and mechanisms to make sure the marijuana bill would not be susceptible to abuse if enacted into law.

Ejercito was among the 13 senators who signed the panel report on Senate Bill 2573, or the Cannabis Medicalization Act of the Philippines—making it one step closer to plenary debates.

The Committee Report No. 210 was prepared and submitted jointly by the Senate Committees on Health and Demography; Public Order and Dangerous Drugs; and Finance.

Other senators who signed the report include Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, and Senators Robinhood Padilla, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, Sonny Angara, Jinggoy Estrada, Mark Villar, Lito Lapid, Raffy Tulfo, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Grace Poe.

In a regular Kapihan sa Senado forum on Thursday, Ejercito said the strict monitoring mechanism as to how the marijuana will be used should be included in the measure. 

“Nakita ko naman na meron namang safeguards na nilagay po doon. Dapat may monitoring for every product para alam kung saan mapupunta talaga. So, yun yung nakita ko sa bill (I saw that there are safeguards stated there. There should be monitoring for every product to determine where it will really go. So, that's what I saw in the bill),” Ejercito said as he explained his approval to the measure.

Ejercito, who formerly chairs the Health and Demography panel, said he is not skeptical to open discussion on the proposed measure as he cited personal experiences.

“My sister-in-law is an epileptic. Ang alam ko, kapag inaatake yun, madalas halos araw-araw. Nakakatakot, di mo alam kung magsu-survive. Pero nung nakakuha siya ng medical cannabis, ng medication, nawala na talaga (What I know is that she had seizures almost on a daily basis. It is scary because you don't know if she will survive. But when she got the medical cannabis, the medication, it was gone),” he said.

Ejercito also cited that medical Cannabis can also cure the pains of cancer patients. 

Expressing her reservations on the approval of legalizing medical marijuana in the country, Marcos said there’s a need to determine to which authority the usage control will be assigned. 

“I haven’t signed it. I have a very clear knowledge of the compassionate use of Marijuana because I am a glaucoma patient like my mother and my relatives on my mother’s side,” she said. 

“When I’m reading the bill, I want stricter implementation. I want to know who will be the authority. It was not clear to me who would manage it,” she added. 

Citing countries where the plant drug is legal, Marcos is not yet fully convinced that Cannabis will be used accordingly in the Philippines.

“In various countries like the United States… the latest in Thailand. They would say it’s for medical purposes but on the enforcement, on the implementations, it is impossible to do because they could always find reasons on its usage,” she said. 

Marcos said there’s still a need to include more detailed and stricter enforcement policies in the measure legalizing marijuana in the country.

“Palagay ko okay Pero detalyahin pa natin ng todo-todo para mahigpit na mahigpit siya kasi hindi klaro sakin kung sino ang mamamahala, kung sinong magpaparusa, kung sino huhuli, sinong magdedetermine kung talaga pang-medical at anong gagawin kapag nahuli kung hindi pala medical? Hindi pa talaga klaro sakin (It was not really clear to me who will mange it, who will impose punishment, who will enforce it, who will manage it or who will determine if it is really for medical use and what should be done if someone caught using it illegally? It’s not really clear to me). It’s not clear to me who’s the one in-charge,” she lamented. 

Marcos reiterated the need to further polish the bill’s enforcement aspect, especially the regulation and control of plant drug usage. 

“Because it has repeatedly failed in many many jurisdictions. What has failed is the limitation for medical use. They would say it is for medical use but in the end, it is being used for recreational and other usages,” she said.

The senator also lamented that people nowadays can easily fake identification cards.

“Napakadaling kumuha ng PWD [Persons With Disability] ID para sabihin pang-chronic back pain. So dapat higpitan natin. Lagyan natin ng pangil konti kasi ‘wag natin kalimutan maraming doctor ang nagsasabing gateway drug iyan sa dangerous drugs (It’s so easy to get PWD ID so they can say they have chronic back pain. So we should tigthen it further. Let’s have a little fang on it because we should not forget that many doctors have expressed that it could be a gateway durg to dangerous drugs),” said Marcos. 

For his part, Ejercito said the government could just consider the initial importation of medical cannabis products as it would be a challenging part for the authorities to monitor plantations in the Philippines. 

Once importation is allowed, Ejercito said the QR coding system could also be utilized for easy tracking and monitoring,

“Siguro i-import na lang muna kung saka-sakali, kasi ang challenge diyan kung magkakaroon ng plantation. Madaling magamit (Maybe we should import it [medical cannabis] first if ever [the bill is enacted into law], because the challenge there is if there will be plantations. It can be easily abused),” Ejercito noted.

SB 2573, sponsored by Padilla, recognizes the medicinal quality of marijuana, and seeks the establishment of a Philippine Medical Cannabis Authority under the Department of Health, which shall be assisted by the Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee.

The PMCA will be mandated to formulate and adopt a Comprehensive Cannabis Medicalization Plan; formulate rules and regulations related to the propagation, cultivation, planting, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, distribution, dispensing, and patient licenses and prescription; establish and maintain an information system to track cannabis growth from seed to sale for monitoring and regulation purposes; and formulate and implement standard operating procedures for every stage of producing medical cannabis, among others.

A Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee, meanwhile, will be constituted to assist and provide directions in the formulation, implementation, and assessment of policies, guidelines, and regulations under the proposed measure.

To recall, Revilla and Villar signed the report with reservations while Go, Poe, Pimentel, and Villanueva said they would be proposing some amendments to ensure sufficient safeguards on the measure. 

Under the bill, the State shall “protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them. Pursuant thereto, the state shall legalize and regulate the medical use of cannabis, which has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses for known debilitating medical conditions."

SB 2573 allows the use of cannabis for medical purposes will  be permitted “to treat or alleviate a qualified patient’s debilitating medical condition or symptoms.”

“The medicalization of cannabis includes its acquisition, possession, transportation, delivery, dispensing, administration, cultivation, or manufacturing by private individuals or entities only for medical and research purposes,” the bill further stated.

Daily Tribune