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DOH: Medical cannabis proposals need strong science, cost-effective analysis

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday that proposals to legalize medical cannabis or marijuana use should be based on rigorous scientific evidence and evaluation of public health implications. 

In a statement, the DOH said it recognizes any efforts to legalize the medical use of marijuana. The agency, however, pointed out that it does not support the cultivation of cannabis plants or the manufacture of cannabis products. 

"Any such initiatives should be based on the best available scientific evidence, weighed for cost-effectiveness and public health impact," the department said. 

Currently, the use of marijuana in the Philippines remains illegal, with the exception of cases granted a compassionate special permit issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This permit allows patients with qualifying medical conditions to import and use medical cannabis products. 

Last week, a joint panel of the House of Representatives approved an unnumbered consolidated bill that seeks to legalize the medical use of marijuana, but without removing it from the country's list of dangerous drugs. 

The bill also seeks to create a Medical Cannabis Office under the DOH, which will grant accreditation to doctors and other licenses for medical cannabis use.

"Legislation should also consider the regulatory capacity of all government agencies that will be involved should there be approval," the DOH said. 

During his confirmation hearing as the DOH chief in September 2023, Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said he was in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana. 

Earlier on Tuesday, FDA Director General Samuel Zacate expressed openness to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"Filipinos must have a wide range of therapeutic indications or drugs of choice. So ako for the record [...] is very much open for marijuana as long as it has been streamlined and does not pose harm to the public," Zacate said in a Palace briefing. 

In a separate briefing, medical groups led by the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) opposed proposed measures to legalize cannabis for any use other than those with medical value approved by the FDA.

"Cannabis used as a recreational