Duque cautioned on medical marijuana

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Newly appointed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday was cautioned by senators on the interpretation of “compassionate use” of medical marijuana, saying  this could be abused and lead to the use of illegal drugs.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, an anti-drug advocate, reminded Duque that Republic Act 9165 already allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

“There is no need for (another) bill,” Sotto told reporters.

Sotto warned that he would object to Duque’s confirmation before the Commission on Appointments (CA) if he insisted on supporting legislation to allow the use of marijuana for other purposes.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on health, agreed with Sotto, saying “compassionate use” is “technically already in the law.”

“With a doctor’s certification that it’s for medical or compassionate use, it is allowed,” Honasan said.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is also not keen on supporting medical marijuana, citing the “very weak” enforcement of legislation against abuse and the illegal drug trade.

“Because of this inherent weakness, unscrupulous users will take advantage of this liberal policy to make money and sell marijuana in the open market,” Gatchalian said.

“Monitoring will be very difficult because it will now be available to everyone who will use marijuana,” he said.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said he is open to supporting the medical and compassionate use of marijuana.

“As long as parameters are in place to prevent its abuse, I am open to the idea,” Ejercito said.

“There is proof it can really relieve pain for cancer patients and is effective in treatment of epilepsy and other cerebral conditions,” he said.

Ejercito also agreed that substance abuse should be a concern of all so there is a need to put safeguards in place.

“If it will prolong the lives of the sick, why not?” he said.

Duque earlier said he supports the use of cannabis for selected medical cases but agreed that security measures must be in place to prevent abuse.

“Medical marijuana, as the bill describes, is for compassionate use. So, it should never be used by just anyone. There are people who qualify to benefit from medical marijuana,” he said, referring to House Bill 80 or the proposed Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.

Duque stressed that the use of medical marijuana “must have very narrow applicability and must be strictly regulated.”

He assured the public that the Department of Health is working closely with legislators on the technical aspects of the bill.

“There are continuing consultations where we provide them our technical positions to ensure that the final version of the law will be clear and acceptable to all,” he added.

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