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Ex-Speaker Alvarez seeks decriminalization of marijuana use

Former House Speaker and now Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez on Tuesday called for the decriminalization of marijuana use, saying it is not as "fatal" compared to alcohol or cigarette consumption.

Alvarez made the call during the House dangerous drugs panel’s deliberations on his House Bill 6783 which amends parts of the 2002 Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

“Restrictions in usage, even for medical purposes, under the premise of preventing public harm, make no sense at all. In a 2017 report led by doctors at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it was found that there was no or insufficient evidence to support or refute deaths due to cannabis usage," Alvarez said.

"While marijuana has not been proven fatal even if consumed excessively, another substance - alcohol - which can kill a person through alcohol poisoning, is allowed by the government to be sold to the public... If alcohol, a far more harmful product with little to no health benefits, is allowed by the government, why should marijuana - with benefits that outweigh its supposed harms - be illegal?,” he added

Alvarez also said that delisting marijuana as a dangerous drug will also open its use for medical use, something that advocates have been pushing for before Congress for so long.

“Studies have shown that marijuana is effective in helping treat a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, and anxiety. In addition, marijuana helps improve appetite and sleep quality for people who are suffering from certain medical conditions,” Alvarez said.

“My proposal is we apply the rules on alcoholic beverages, softdrinks, even cigarettes, which are all bad for health. Maybe the same guidelines [on these products] should be applied on marijuana,” Alvarez added.

Further, Alvarez said allowing the government to regulate the market for marijuana ensures that marijuana being sold is also deemed safe and high in quality.

The House dangerous drugs panel has deferred the approval of Alvarez’s measure pending further discussion. 

Opposition and Risks 

However, the Department of Health (DOH) and some lawmakers are not in favor of legalizing Marijuana. 

“Some of the effects would include effects on psychological, psychiatric effects such as it increases the risk for psychosis, depression, and anxiety disorders... And as such, we believe increasing its availability would put more people at risk rather than benefit most people,” said DOH chief of hospital Dr. Jose Bienvenido Leabres in Tina Panganiban-Perez’s “24 Oras” report on Tuesday.

Batanes Representative Ciriaco Gato Jr. meanwhile said that “while alcohol and tobacco are really bad, marijuana is also bad. They will usually start with marijuana and then later on they will proceed to a more potent psychoactive [and] addicting substances.”

During the deliberations, it was also revealed that some police personnel were apprehended after "recycling" the confiscated drugs. 

“I think it happens before the evidence is submitted to our evidence room or to our laboratories. We call this as "savings" sometimes,” Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency director general Moro Virgilio Lazo said.

According to the Philippine National Police, five police personnel are already facing charges. —VAL, GMA Integrated News