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Medical Cannabis in The Philippines

Over the past year, much has been written about the horrific consequences of the Philippines’ war on drugs, led by its frankly psychopathic president, Rodrigo Duterte.

Thousands have died, gunned down in the streets by police and masked vigilantes, simply for having anything to do with illegal drugs. The reign of terror that has engulfed the country has turned the backstreets and slums of Manila into a war zone, leaving everybody wondering just how it will all end.

A few months ago, it produced a paradox – it emerged that the instigator of all of this death and destruction was himself – allegedly – a drug abuser. Duterte, it was claimed, was hooked on Fentanyl. Now, just as the violence is being ramped up once again, another paradox has emerged. Earlier this month, just one day after the Filipino parliament approved a third and final reading of a Bill which will reinstate the death penalty for drug-related offences, the House Committee on Health endorsed another Bill which, if passed into law, will legalise and regulate the use of medical cannabis.

According to the Asian Correspondent , House Bill 180

[..] prescribes the rules for the proper use of medical marijuana, including the designation of a qualified medical cannabis physician, a medical cannabis patient who shall be issued an identification card, a qualified medical cannabis caregiver and a qualified medical cannabis compassionate centre.

The Bill’s sponsor, Rep. Seth Jalosjos, has said that legalising medical cannabis will “benefit thousands of patients suffering from serious and debilitating diseases” whilst its author, Rodito Albano, is adamant that the Bill can pass even with Duterte in charge. “I have high hopes under the Duterte administration that this measure would be enacted into law,” he told the PhilStar :

Finally, there is hope for our people, especially our children, who suffer from medical conditions like epilepsy, cancer and multiple sclerosisUnlike many medical professionals, President Duterte has an open mind on medical cannabis.

He may have a point. Duterte is on record as saying, whilst he was Mayor of Davao, “Medicinal marijuana, yes, because it is really an ingredient of modern medicine now. There are drugs right now being developed or already in the market that (have) marijuana as a component.”

However, the lawmakers are clearly not blind to the problems that this new law could create. For example, it seems unlikely that many medical cannabis users are going to want to be identified as such in a country where simple possession of cannabis for recreational use can lead to life imprisonment. In an effort to ease those worries, the Bill’s authors insist that it would provide a high level of confidentiality in order to protect patients from discrimination and harm.

It remains to be seen, however, whether that will be enough to convince people to enrol in the new system, should the Bill become law. Despite Duterte’s apparent acceptance of the medical benefits of cannabis use, he is still a highly unstable leader who has, since day one of his presidency, waged all out war on drugs and drug users. In this case, cannabis users may be justified in their paranoia, especially when they see what else Duterte has said about cannabis, such as this quote, taken from the same interview in which he appeared to back medical use of the drug.

“If you just smoke it like a cigarette, I will not allow it, ever.” he said “It remains to be a prohibited item and there’s always a threat of being arrested. If you choose to fight the law enforcement agency, you die.”

Given that the President’s war on drugs has so far been carried out in large part by vigilantes, reacting to his clearly expressed desire to kill all drug users, it is hardly surprising, given comments like the one above, that medical cannabis users are cautious. Masked men on motorbikes roaming the streets looking for drug users to murder with impunity don’t tend to stop to check whether their victim is carrying an identification card.

Inside an overcrowded Filipino prison cell.

Clearly then, this proposed new law is a very long way from perfect. In fact, whilst Duterte’s drug war continues to rage, it is essentially useless to those who genuinely need it.

What it does highlight, however, is the level at which the medical use of cannabis is now accepted throughout the world. Even in a country that wants to murder all drug dealers and put regular pot smokers in prison for life, cannabis’ medical efficacy is acknowledged by the highest power in the land.

All of which makes the insistence of the UK government that cannabis is a harmful drug with no known medical uses seem increasingly absurd and inhumane. We may not lock up cannabis users for life, or gun dealers down in the streets in this country, but when we’ve been made to look uncaring towards some of the most vulnerable members of our society by a country that does, it is time to stop pretending we’re so much better than them, and to change course immediately.

Medical Cannabis in The Philippines Over the past year, much has been written about the horrific consequences of the Philippines’ war on drugs, led by its frankly psychopathic president, Rodrigo

Cannabis in the Philippines – Laws, Use, and History

Philippine drugs laws are among the harshest in the world, with death penalties for possessing a relatively small amount of cannabis. However, the country may approve a bill for introducing medicinal cannabis, with even President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledging its benefits for patients. One of medicinal cannabis’s main supporters is the Catholic Church.

    • CBD Products
    • Illegal
    • Recreational cannabis
    • Illegal
    • Medicinal cannabis
    • Illegal

Cannabis laws in the Philippines

Can you possess and use cannabis in the Philippines?

According to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, it is illegal to use or possess cannabis in the Philippines. The law defines cannabis as a dangerous drug, and imposes a penalty of “life imprisonment to death” and a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos (€8,831 to €176,625) for those caught in possession of the following amounts:

  • 10 grams or more of resin (hashish)
  • 500 grams or more of cannabis

If the amount is less than 10 grams of hashish, or between 300 and 500 grams of cannabis, then the sentence is reduced to 20 years’ and one day to life imprisonment. A fine is still given, but this is also reduced to between 400,000 pesos and 500,000 pesos (€7,065 to €8,831).

The law changes once again if the amount of hashish is less than five grams, or the amount of cannabis is less than 300 grams. In this instance, the offender can be given a 12 year and one day to 20-year sentence, and a fine ranging from 300,000 pesos to 400,000 pesos (€5,298 to €7,065).

Cannabis use:

If a person is caught using cannabis (rather than possessing) – for example, if they test positive in a drugs test – they are given a minimum of six months rehabilitation in a government centre.

If caught a second time, they could be sentenced to six years and one day to 12 years in prison. A fine is also given, ranging from 50,000 pesos to 200,000 pesos (€883 to €3,532).

These severe laws are unlikely to change any time soon. President Rodrigo Duterte said in a press conference in 2016: “If you would smoke it like a cigarette, I will not allow it ever. It remains to be a prohibited item and there’s always a threat of being arrested, or if you choose to fight the law enforcement agency, you die.”

Can you sell cannabis in the Philippines?

The sale and supply of cannabis is also illegal, and as with use and possession, penalties are severe for offenders.

If caught importing cannabis, a sentence of life imprisonment to death is given, plus a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos (€8,831 to €176,625).

Philippine law also punishes ‘protectors / coddlers’ – people who knowingly shield, protect or harbour drugs-traffickers or sellers. In this instance, the offender is sentenced to 12 years and one day to 20 years in prison, and a fine ranging from 100,000 pesos to 500,000 pesos (€1,765 to €8,831).

If caught, cannabis sellers are liable to receive life imprisonment or the death sentence, and a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos. In some circumstances, this is reduced to 12 years and one day to 20 years, and a fine of 100,000 pesos to 500,000 pesos. If the seller is caught selling or distributing within 100 metres of a school, the maximum penalty is imposed. The same applies if the seller is caught employing minors to distribute the cannabis.

Can you grow cannabis in the Philippines?

The law forbids the cultivation of cannabis, and a sentence of life imprisonment to death (and a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos) is in place for those caught growing it. Likewise, any land used for growing cannabis will be seized by the state, unless the owner of the land can prove that they had no knowledge of the cannabis being cultivated there.

Cultivation for research or medicinal purposes is permitted, but only if it adheres to the guidelines provided by the ‘Dangerous Drugs Board’.

Is CBD legal in the Philippines?

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency states that the purchase and use of any derivatives from cannabis, including hemp seed oil, is illegal. Since CBD oil is also a derivate of cannabis, it’s safe to assume that CBD products are also illegal.

The PDEA’s Director General Undersecretary, Arturo G. Cacdac, stated: “PDEA and the FDA jointly advise the public that at present, hempseed oil containing products are strictly prohibited in our country. Although the benefits of hemp outweigh the risks, it is not yet legal or authorised by FDA to distribute of offered for sale in the market.”

Can cannabis seeds be sent to the Philippines?

Due to the PDEA’s tough stance on all derivatives of cannabis plants, seeds cannot be purchased, used or sold in the Philippines. As such, it’s illegal to send them via the post.

Medicinal cannabis in the Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ is well-known around the world, with the death penalty in place for relatively minor cannabis-related offences.

However, even the president himself has spoken out in favour of using cannabis for medicinal benefit. In 2016, he stated that he had no problem with medicinal cannabis, then later, he added: “Medical marijuana, yes, because it is really an ingredient in modern medicine now. There are medicines right now being developed or already in the market that (contain) marijuana as a component but used for medical purposes.”

As a result, Senator Risa Hontiveros prepared a bill called the ‘Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act’. This bill suggested that medicinal cannabis should be made available for patients via a prescription from a health official. This bill was approved on its third reading in the House of Representatives (in 2019); but it has yet to become law.

As it stands at present, the law (if passed) will broadly resemble that of Uruguay, with ‘proofs of registration’ given to patients requiring cannabis. ‘Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centres’ will also be established, to support these patients and monitor the usage of the drug.

Interestingly, medicinal cannabis is already technically permitted by law. The Dangerous Drugs Act stipulates 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.” However, this new law would further protect medicinal cannabis users (for example against workplace discrimination), in addition to the health officials that prescribe them.

Industrial hemp in the Philippines

At present, the cultivation of hemp is forbidden in the Philippines, as the law prohibits all types of the Cannabis Sativa L plant, regardless of the levels of THC. Therefore, growing industrial hemp could result in the same punishments as growing high-THC cannabis.

Good to know

If you are travelling to the Philippines (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

  • The Guardian recently ran a report, highlighting how many people had been killed as a result of President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’. As of December 2018, this figure was over 5,000. However, the chairman of the Philippine commission on human rights claimed that this could be as high as 27,000.
  • Despite the tough laws, some of the Philippines’ rural communities still use cannabis, much as they have done for hundreds of years.
  • A Dangerous Drugs Board survey in 2015 found that around 1.8 million Filipinos use illegal drugs. How many of those use cannabis, is unknown.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s impact on cannabis

In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected as president of the Philippines. He was previously the mayor of Davao, and had been linked in the past to the notorious Davao Death Squad, which was believed to have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of suspected drug dealers.

Since his rise to power, Duterte has embarked on a ‘war against drugs’ in a bid to stop people selling and using drugs in the country. This has, for the most part, been a violent campaign. Several thousand drug dealers and users have lost their lives, and these killings have been labelled as ‘legitimate’ by the government.

Despite the fact that the country suspended the death penalty back in 2006, Duterte has repeatedly called for its reinstatement. He and the police force have called their campaign plan ‘Double Barrel’ – a reference to using guns to eliminate both drug barons and street-level pushers and users. Although Duterte claimed that the rich drugs financiers were one of his main targets, the people who have suffered most are largely poor.

Unsurprisingly, this brutal ‘war on drugs’ has prompted international outcry. However, the Philippines’ economic performance has strengthened in recent years – perhaps due to Duterte’s harsh approach to eliminating drugs.

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Is there a serious threat to cannabis users?

According to prominent cannabis activist Kimmi del Prado, Duterte’s main target is methamphetamine dealers and users, not those who sell or use cannabis. She described cannabis in the Philippines as an “open secret” with use of the drug still being prevalent in certain parts of the country.

Some of the Philippines’ tribal societies, for example, use cannabis in their rituals and for traditional medicine. Others use it recreationally, as a substitute for tobacco and alcohol. In fact, attitudes towards cannabis are largely positive or ambivalent, with just a few that are prejudiced against its use.

The activist highlights that there is a threat against cannabis users and sellers in the Philippines, but it is less pronounced than other drugs.

The Catholic Church – cannabis’s biggest supporters?

To the astonishment of many, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has spoken out in support of legalising medicinal cannabis, on many occasions.

They claim that their support is based on the fact that cannabis can be used to help many people; their reasoning is focused solely on the health benefits that the plant offers. At the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in 2014, Archbishop Socrates Villegas commented: “Catholic health care ethics, in fact, considers as morally justifiable the use of marijuana for terminal cancer patients in severe pain.”

In early 2019, following the third reading and approval of the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio of the country’s military diocese said to CBCP News that if medicinal cannabis aided patients, “then let us, by all means, use it.”

Not everyone is in agreement with the Catholic Church, though. Some politicians have spoken out against the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, with some calling it a “national disaster”. Senator Vicente Sotto claimed that the whole notion was ‘misleading’, and used a metaphor to illustrate his point: “You don’t declare a nuclear bomb legal just because a small component of the bomb can be used to light up your house.”

Will it be legalised in the future?

It seems likely that cannabis will be approved for medicinal purposes in the near future. However, while President Duterte is still in charge, the nation’s strict laws against cannabis usage and sale are likely to continue.

The Philippines have some of the most brutal cannabis laws in the world, yet the Catholic Church supports medicinal cannabis usage.