By Jon Viktor D. Cabuenas

Doctors oppose bill to legalize cannabis for medical purposes

Posted on October 20, 2014

FILIPINO DOCTORS, physicians and medical professionals have raised objections against a bill seeking to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes, saying drug approvals cannot be legislated.

“We cannot trust legislation to approve drugs because medicine is dynamic. It may be effective today and not anymore tomorrow,” Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) President Dr. Anthony C. Leachon said in a mix of Filipino and English during a press conference on Thursday.

Mr. Leachon was referring to House Bill 4477, also known as “Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill,” which was filed by Isabela Rep. Rodito T. Albano.

Under the current law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the approving body for drugs.

Mr. Leachon also said that the bill is “misguided” as it allows patients to use the drug because of compassion. “We cannot use compassion because it is misguided. It is emotional (and not scientific).”

The bill also seeks the creation of a Medical Cannabis Regulatory Authority under the Department of Health (DoH) which will regulate the use of medical marijuana.

“It has a department that will be under a DoH Undersecretary. The top five diseases in the country are stroke, heart attack, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes which kill 800,000 per day. It would be better if we concentrate manpower here instead of let them focus on medical cannabis,” Mr. Leachon said.

Dangerous Drugs Board Assistant Secretary Dr. Benjamin P. Reyes also cited the absence of strong evidence that marijuana has been confirmed to be useful for disease treatment.

According to the bill, marijuana “has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses to treat chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition” that causes cahexia or wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, and severe and persistent muscle spasms.

Mr. Reyes also noted the “problems on the vagueness” of the bill as it did not specify any specific type of marijuana as “there are many types of Cannabis,” and it would be better to have a higher Cannabidiol concentration which is said to have a wide scope of medical applications.

For his part, the bill’s proponent clarified that the bill does not support the recreational use of marijuana.

“HB 4477 is not about recreational use, but the use of medical marijuana. It is not in the law that it will encourage recreational use,” Mr. Albano said in a phone interview.

“The bill has parameters. We’re still banning the smoking, planting, selling and (recreationally) using marijuana,” he added.

According to Mr. Albano, medical marijuana has already been used in the United States some 15 years ago. “We are already late,” he said in Filipino.

He also raised the possibility that medical practitioners have refused to support the bill because they are “protecting big pharmaceutical companies,” which may stand to lose earnings if the bill is enacted, noting that even Filipino priests have already expressed support for his proposed law.

The bill is pending at the health committee level, according to Dangerous Drugs Board Legal Officer Atty. Philip Josef T. Vera Cruz.

Cannabis plants are pictured in a state-owned agricultural farm in Rovigo, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Venice.