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Medical marijuana bill is a bad joke

Our weekly breakfast forum at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay went back into action after a respite last Wednesday. This was to give way to “All Saints Day” observance. We will observe another respite though next week, Nov. 15. This time because it coincides with the holding of the Leaders’ Summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila. There will be a lot of lockdowns all over the major routes in Metro Manila as part of the security measures for the ASEAN Summit events next week.

The 17th Congress have also extended for one week their recess to give way to ASEAN Summit meetings. Both chambers of Congress are originally supposed to go back to work starting Monday after their one-month recess.

When sessions resume on Nov. 20, Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza disclosed, the House of Representatives has tabled on top of their order of business the controversial bill seeking to legalize marijuana, or cannabis for medical use. Guest in this week’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Cafe Adriatico at Remedios Circle in Malate, Atienza rued the fast-tracked approval of the bill at the House committee level. Thus, it is now up for floor deliberations for approval on second reading. 

Atienza noted with dismay that 80 House members signed as co-authors of this bill sponsored by Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano to explain its speedy approval but unexplained haste. A staunch pro-life and anti-drugs lawmaker, Atienza vowed to block its approval.

However, being one of the few members of the House minority, Atienza admitted it will be a difficult job for him to stop dead in its track the seeming thoughtless efforts by fellow legislators to ram through approval of this bill. The House minority bloc just lost one of their most vocal and articulate members, former Kabayan party list Rep. Harry Roque who took his oath last Monday before President Rodrigo Duterte as the new presidential spokesman at Malacanang Palace.

Given the hardline stand on anti-illegal drugs policy of Duterte administration, Atienza is bewildered why Albano – who belongs to the “super majority” led by the President’s PDP-Laban party – is pushing for approval of the medical marijuana bill.  Atienza promises to engage Albano to a no-nonsense debate, especially on the point of the latter’s claim of marijuana’s alleged therapeutic effect where there is no medical studies to support such fallacy.

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Citing he is no doctor, Atienza insisted marijuana’s effect is not medical but merely hallucinatory to the user who gets the temporary illusion of not feeling any pain. Worse, the marijuana user eventually ends up dependent on its chemical effect to his brains to block the pain messages.

Atienza could only commiserate with incoming Health Sec. Dr. Francisco Duque who took a middle ground on the proposed medical marijuana bill. The Buhay party-list pointed out the new Cabinet official will still go through the confirmation process of the congressional commission on appointments (CA).

Duque earlier expressed support for proposals legalizing medical marijuana. Duque cited cannabis should only be used for research purposes and limited to patients who are unresponsive to traditional treatment. However, Duque clarified the DOH does not support the use of marijuana in its raw form and derivatives.

Obviously, Duque is taking the middle ground to avoid offending lawmakers opposed to the proposed marijuana bill and those supporting its approval into law.

Also known pro-life advocate, Atienza said Duque’s stand simply reflects he could not offend sensitivity of Albano who is a senior member of the House contingent to the 25-man CA. Fortunately for Duque, Atienza agreed with me, the incoming DOH Secretary could count upon the support of Sen. Tito Sotto III who also strongly opposes the medical marijuana bill.

Atienza counts on President Duterte to remain consistent on his anti-illegal drugs campaign by not endorsing its approval into law by Congress. Having served for three consecutive terms as Manila Mayor, Atienza shares the anti-drug advocacy of President Duterte who started this while he was still Davao City Mayor.

So Atienza sends this message to Albano: “Withdraw the medical marijuana bill so as not to waste the time of the Lower House to tackle more priority bills and avoid also waste of taxpayers’ money.”

In a press conference last Tuesday, DOH Undersecretary for Health Regulation Mario Villaverde announced a technical evaluation committee (TEC) would be created to study the implications of legalizing medical marijuana that has advanced towards approval at the House legislative stage. The TEC would be composed of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the Philippine Institute for Traditional and Alternative Health Care; and the DOH’s Health Facilities and Services Regulatory Bureau.

The DOH plans to tap likewise the University of the Philippines (UP)-Manila that issued a position paper opposing the legalization of medical marijuana. “We will further review the implications of the (proposal) because cannabis, in its raw form, is the one that is questionable,” he said. The synthetic form of cannabis is not really therapeutic but only serves as pain reliever.

Representatives from various medical institutions opposed the proposed legalization of medical marijuana.

They particularly expressed concerns on House Bills 6517, 180 and 4477, all seeking to legalize use of marijuana.

Dr. Leonor Cabral-Lim, chair of the department of neurosciences of the UP-Philippine General Hospital, warned the current estimated figure of four million drug users being mentioned by President Duterte could reach to six million if these proposed bills get passed into law.

What is the difference between politicians and marijuana users? Answer: Politicians don’t inhale...they just suck. If laughter is the best medicine and marijuana makes users laugh, is marijuana the best medicine?  That’s why medical marijuana bill is a bad joke.

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