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No to medical marijuana —Sotto

The position of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III allowing the “compassionate use”of medical marijuana drew censure from  Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who advised the newly-appointed DoH chief to study the matter thoroughly.

“He should review RA [Republic Act 9165],” Sotto said, referring to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“Compassionate use if allowed. No need for a bill...Aralin muna nila yung [RA] 9165,” Sotto said, saying he will object to the position of Duque during the Health secretary’s confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments.

Duque, who was appointed last week by President Rodrigo Duterte, said he is in favor of medical marijuana for “compassionate use.” Duque was referring to House Bill 180 or otherwise known as the proposed Philippine Medical Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.

The proposal, approved at the House committee level last month, seeks to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Senator Gringo Honasan, chairman of the CA health committee, agreed with Sotto’s view, saying the compassionate use of marijuana is “already in the law.”

“Technically, it’s already in the law that with a doctor’s certification that it’s for medical/compassionate use, it is allowed,” Honasan said in a text message.

RA 9165 states that the government should “achieve a balance in the national drug control program so that people with legitimate medical needs are not prevented from being treated with adequate amounts of appropriate medications, which include the use of dangerous drugs.”

But Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate health committee, meanwhile, said he is “open” to the proposal legalizing marijuana for medical use.

“If it will help in saving lives, why not? As long as parameters are in place to prevent its abuse, I am open to the idea,” Ejercito said.

“Of course, any substance abuse is a concern. We need to put safeguards to prevent abuse,” he added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who sought to provide a comprehensive public health approach to the country’s drug-related policy, has also proposed the use of marijuana upon the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.

Under Hontiveros’ measure, “the delivery, possession, transfer, transportation, or use of cannabis and other dangerous drugs intended for medical use or to treat or alleviate a patient’s medical condition or symptoms associated with his or her debilitating disease...shall be allowed upon application to and approval of the Food and Drug Administration.”

For his part, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, warned of users who could take advantage of a policy allowing medical marijuana.

“We currently have very weak enforcement against the illegal drug trade. Because of this inherent weakness, unscrupulous users will take advantage of this liberal policy on marijuana use to make money and sell it to the market,” Gatchalian said in a text message.

But while Senators Sotto and Honasan appeared ready to contest Duque’s confirmation, at least three lawmakers in the House expressed their support to the new DOH chief’s appointment.

Reps. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela, Lito Atienza of Buhay party-list and Gus Tambunting of Parañaque City, in separate interviews with The Standard, said Duque’s expertise, particularly on public health, would boost the Duterte administration’s agenda on universal health care.

“His track record speaks for himself. He is a good man and has not been involved in any shady dealings,” Albano, majority leader for the House of Representatives’ Commission on Appointments, said.

Albano, principal author of the bill legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, also welcomed Duque’s openness to his pet bill which advocates the use of cannabis by patients with debilitating medical condition.

“I am supporting Secretary Duque whether he is supporting or is against medical marijuana. I believe he is a great asset to the Duterte Cabinet,” Albano said.

Atienza, a deputy minority leader, also welcomed Duque’s appointment as the new Health Secretary, replacing Jean Pauly Rosell Ubial whose ad interim appointment was rejected by the CA.

“ I certainly support the appointment of Secretary Duque. He will do a lot of good for tthe people and the Duterte administration . His track record is unblemished,” Atienza said.

“I believe he will do a lot better than the others,” he added.

Tambunting also rallied behind the new DoH chief.

“I support the appointment of Secretary Duque who has the experience and gravitas to push the President’s health agenda forward,” Tambunting, chair of the House committee on games and amusements, said.

Duque was appointed as a health secretary during the presidency of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He also served as chairperson of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) as well as assumed chairmanship of the board of trustees of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

Topics: Health Secretary Francisco Duque III , Senator Vicente Sotto III , President Rodrigo Duterte , Senator Gringo Honasan , marijuana , Reps. Rodolfo Albano III
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