Should Phl legalize marijuana as a cure?

Cherish Maglaque (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2014 - 1:13pm

MANILA, Philippines - The recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado has revived debates on whether to allow the use of the substance for medicinal purposes.

While those pushing for its legalization claim that marijuana can provide relief to patients who have tried in vain to seek cure from conventional treatments, some are worried about its impact on public safety.

Malacañang has yet to issue a categorical statement on whether it will back the legalization of marijuana, preferring instead to leave the matter to Congress.

Some lawmakers have bared plans to file a bill legalizing medical marijuana, but it remains uncertain whether it will gain widespread support.

Iligan City Rep. Vincent Belmonte, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Dangerous Drugs, has said that the benefits of medical cannabis “should outweigh the risks from potential abuse.”

For now, marijuana is still considered a taboo, being among the prohibited substances under the Dangerous Drugs Act.

But for supporters of medical marijuana, it’s about time that the government reconsider its views on the plant, which is said to have been providing remedies for more than 4,000 years.

Not criminals

Former senator Rene Saguisag said those who use marijuana should not be judged as bad people.

“They (marijuana users) are not criminals. They may have a weakness,” Saguisag said in a policy forum on medical marijuana early this month.

“They must be seen as patients, not as criminals to be prosecuted,” he added.

Saguisag said there should be an overall review as to why the use of marijuana was legalized in some places.

Lawyer Norieva de Vega noted that under the law, the state shall strike a balance such that people with legitimate needs should not be prevented from availing of medicines even those classified as dangerous drugs.

“Definitely, we are not for recreational use. No parent would want his child to grow up as an addict. But no parent would also want to see his child deprived of the appropriate drug for his illness,” she said.

De Vega said the constitution has a provision which states that the state shall promote the right to health of the people.

“Since it is a fundamental right, one life is precious. It does not mean that because there are many addicts on the corner, we can no longer receive relief that marijuana can provide,” she said.

Chuck Manansala, founder of Medical Cannabis Research Center, said that the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, which was amended by the 1972 protocol, was never against marijuana for medical and scientific purposes.


Actor Rafael Rosell, who was present in the same policy forum, said his mother had used marijuana as a medicine.

Rosell’s mother had a thyroid cancer and had undergone medication and chemotherapy but to no avail.

“What the doctors were giving to our mom was obviously not working. You know when you care for a family member, you become desperate and you want to find a cure for that,” the actor said.

Rosell said a friend had suggested that they try the oil of marijuana.

“After two months, when we came back to the doctor, he said, ‘Ma'am whatever you're doing continue to do that. I don't care what it is because your cancer cells are less,” he said.

Rosell claimed that his mother now looks younger, happier, and feels better.

“It (marijuana) is from nature. It is something God has created. And I think everyone will benefit from this if they just know how to use it properly,” he said

Canadian Robert Coteles said he has been using medical marijuana for 40 years. Coteles said he grows and bakes the medical marijuana into breads.

“I eat one slice of bread which contains nine grams of cannabis per day and I've lost over 183 pounds in the last four years,” he added.

Coteles was diagnosed with male breast cancer when he was about 28 years old. When he knew that he had only three months to live, he started grinding the flowers of medical marijuana into peanut butter and honey.

Coteles claimed that his health condition improved within six months.

“It (medical marijuana) changed me. It helped me. It even gave me a new life,” he said.


Despite testimonies about the supposed wonders of medical marijuana, some experts are wary of proposals to legalize it.

Rusty Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, said marijuana should not be legalized because there are other ways to treat diseases for which the plant is said to be used medically.

“Some people might be helped by marijuana. However, more addicts to marijuana will be present and other psychiatric diseases will increase,” Jimenez said in an interview.

Health Undersecretary Nemesio Gaco said for now, there are not enough studies to convince them that marijuana has therapeutic effects.

“There are other alternatives for diseases they mentioned other than marijuana. Our recommendation from the department is to have more study, to prove and evaluate that the benefits will outweigh the risks or addictive side,” Gaco said.

“If this is the only available drug that can alleviate the disease then why not? But if there are other alternatives out there, then utilize it first.”

Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who has been opposing the legalization of marijuana, said there is a need to balance the benefits and risks involved.

“You have to weigh. This can be cured. This can cure. But if we legalize it, this can cause deaths, this can destroy the society. Which has more weight?” Sotto said.

Sotto said the term “medical marijuana” is a misnomer and that some people are using it to camouflage their intention of legalizing the substance.

“Let's legalize cannabijohn, which is the non-psychotic component in marijuana. Legalize that, but don't tell me we will legalize marijuana,” the senator said.

“If we can prove that it is scientifically proven that cannabijohn can cure, and it's therapeutic then I will even help you. But as far as the main component of marijuana is concern, we can't because it is disastrous.”

Assistant Secretary Benjamin Reyes, deputy director for operations of the Dangerous Drugs Board, acknowledged that there is a component in cannabis that can be used medically. He, however, noted that the plant has over 30,000 components that need to be controlled.

“You need to catalog each and every one, you need to catalog each and every effect of those components. At the same time, this is one of the reasons why it has yet to be accepted by the US FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration),” Reyes said.

Related to crimes?

Sotto said recent crimes were committed by people who were high on marijuana.

“And I can name hundreds, and hundreds of accidents and killings. Marijuana is at fault. You cannot convince me when it comes to marijuana itself because it's a bomb and it's going to be disastrous,” he said.

Michael Angelo Salmingo of the Philippine National Police Anti-illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Force said some groups might take advantage of the legalization of marijuana.

“We are not against the use of the potential of medical marijuana. But once we legalize it, there will be personalities and groups who will take advantage of the situation,” he said.

Salmingo said they recently arrested a certain “Abu” who had used high school students to infiltrate different schools in Fairview, Quezon City.

“The reason of students to proliferate the marijuana leaves is the medical benefits,” he said.

“There should be stringent and rigorous regulations. If we use the full medical potential of cannabis, we should also prevent possible abuses.”

Breast cancer patient Emma Flores, 52, said she is against the legalization of marijuana because it would lead to addiction.

“I don’t believe it can cure illnesses like cancer. It’s still different if you take medicines that were subjected to extensive studies,” Flores said.

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