On May 26, 2014, Filipino Congressman Rodolfo Albano introduced a bill titled The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. The move sparked an ongoing debate regarding the merits, uses, and likelihood of legalization in the Philippines.
To this day, medical cannabis has not yet been legalized, but most recently, the use of CBD for compassionate care has been approved. As well, a handful of bills have been introduced over the years, showing the use of medical cannabis has supporters both in the government and throughout the general population. Given that the Filipino government is also known for waging a bloody drug war against its citizens this past decade, the dichotomy of the situation is palpable.
Green Flower caught up with Kimmi del Prado, a cannabis advocate and Chairperson for Sensible Philippines, a pro-cannabis NGO working on the ground for legalization. Del Prado outlined the ongoing movement to end prohibition in the Philippines.
Green Flower: How did you become involved with the medical cannabis movement in the Philippines?
Del Prado: [My interest began] in 2013, around the same time medical cannabis advocacy took off in the U.S. My story dates back to [when I was] in college with my interest in cannabis as a controversial plant.
Soon after I became a mom, and I wondered if there was anything cannabis and mom related. A Google search led me to Moms for Marijuana International. I saw that they had chapters in different parts of the world including Malaysia and Thailand.
Curious if they had a Philippine chapter, I sent them an email. A couple of emails later, I was granted and tasked to admin the Philippine chapter Facebook page name under “Philippines Moms for Marijuana.” One thing led to another, and one new friend led to another, until we found ourselves fronting the Philippine medical cannabis movement.
Advocates from all walks of life started coming together, headed by parents of children with seizure disorders. There were volunteers reaching out to government agencies, lobbying, until we got noticed by a local representative by the name of Congressman Albano from Isabela.
That’s how the first medical cannabis bill made it in Philippine congress. It has been refilled since then, as that was in 2014. Now, with a new rep — the younger brother Congressman Tonypet Albano — the bill has yet to reach the Senate.
GF: Does the Philippines have any kind of medical cannabis right now?
DP: To date, we are still waiting for the official announcement from the Dangerous Drugs Board for how to legally import FDA-approved cannabis-based medicine under what’s called the “Compassionate Special Permit.” Of course, we can’t deny that there are patients who are “illegally” self-medicating. I do acknowledge the fact that some people can’t wait, and that time is of the essence. There’s a network of people sustaining lives of patients where conventional medicine can’t.
GF: Where is medical cannabis in the legislative process? Is there a bill being examined? If so, where is it at?
DP: Yes, as a matter of fact there are four pending bills in congress on cannabis and one on hemp. As for their status, it says on the House of Representatives official report that they are all pending.
GF: President Duterte has taken a hard-line on drug use and trafficking in the country. What are his thoughts on medical cannabis?
DP: “I will not deprive Filipinos of the benefits of medical marijuana” was one of his most memorable quotes during the campaign and election period in 2016. And in 2019 as president, he said he does not intend to legalize it. But at the same time, he and some of his officials met with PCCS (Philippine Cannabis Compassion Society). They were referred to the right government agencies tasked in working on giving medical exemptions to import medical cannabis.
GF: How soon do you see medical cannabis being introduced and why?
DP: This is a hard question. Access to cannabis doesn’t seem to be a priority with the pandemic, so how soon depends on how much work local cannabis groups are willing to take.
Right now, with the “new normal,” we at Sensible Philippines are finding ways to maximize our efforts. It’s on our agenda to trace back our use of cannabis/traditional medicine in Philippine history. We’ve heard stories of some tribes from the north who use cannabis for rituals and as medicine. But this is hearsay or a topic that most Filipinos are uncomfortable exploring.
We in Asia, especially in our region, are deeply rooted in traditional herbal medicine, so if we can just present that cannabis use is not new or foreign to us, it’s easier to look for Reps to help us push to make cannabis a household topic.