VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino mistaken on medical marijuana

Read this fact check in Filipino

Senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino’s claim that there is no scientific basis for the efficacy of medical marijuana is false.

Over 30 states in the U.S. have already approved medical marijuana based on evidence of effectiveness for certain health conditions.

STATEMENT

During ABS-CBN’s “Harapan” town hall debate on Feb. 17, Tolentino and the other candidates were asked if they would support the legalization of medical marijuana in the Philippines.

Tolentino said he would oppose such a policy, claiming there is no evidence the drug can help the sick:

"Wala pa hong validated, scientific basis na ito ay makakatulong. Maging sa ibang estado po ng Amerika, hindi pa ho ito naaaprubahan. (There is no validated, scientific basis that this would be beneficial. Even in other states in America, this policy has not yet been approved).”

Source: ABS-CBN News, Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate, Feb. 17, 2019, watch from 51:51-52:03

FACT

Thirty-three U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia (D.C.), Guam and Puerto Rico, have already approved public medical marijuana programs.

California was the first U.S. state to establish a medical marijuana program in 1996, later legalizing it for recreational use in 2016.

The University of California San Diego found that cannabis can be used together with or as a substitute for opioids, which are drugs prescribed for pain relief.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Health Department said “studies generally showed improvements in pain measures with cannabis and cannabinoids,” concluding that:

  • Cannabis is recommended for neuropathic pain.
  • Cannabis can be a useful adjunct in treating cancer pain.
  • Cannabis is effective for nausea and vomiting.
  • Cannabis may be useful in some patients for stimulating appetite.
  • Cannabis may help treat anxiety.
  • There is moderate evidence that cannabinoids or active chemicals found in cannabis are effective for spasticity, which pertains to continued muscle stiffness.

However, the agency noted that there was no evidence that marijuana would be effective for treating acute pain, tremor in multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s Disease, glaucoma, schizophrenia and depression.

Elsewhere in North America, Canada’s Cannabis Act came into force on Oct. 17, 2018, allowing the use, access, sale and growing of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

The Canadian health department said clinical trials on “smoked/vapourized cannabis” have shown therapeutic benefits in people with HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain caused by arthritis, cancer, sickle cell disease, among others.

In the Philippines, marijuana is a banned substance under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Possessing at least 10 grams of marijuana resin or marijuana resin oil or at least 500 grams of marijuana is punishable with life imprisonment and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P10 million.

On Jan. 29, the House of Representatives approved House Bill 6157 or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which makes marijuana a “medicine of last resort” for “patients with a debilitating medical condition” like cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and HIV and AIDS. The Senate has yet to file a counterpart bill.

The proposed measure would require special licenses for doctors and pharmacists to prescribe and sell marijuana from designated centers to qualified patients, as well as direct government agencies to conduct research on medical marijuana.

House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, one of the bill’s authors, said on Jan. 15 that she uses marijuana-based pain patches to cope with chronic pain in her cervical spine.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in December that President Rodrigo Duterte would support legalizing medical marijuana, despite his administration’s bloody war on illegal drugs.




Sources

ABS-CBN News, Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate, Feb. 17, 2019

ABS-CBN News, Arroyo says she uses marijuana-based pain patch for cervical spine, Jan. 15, 2019

CNN Philippines, Arroyo says medical marijuana works for her, Jan. 15, 2019

Dangerous Drugs Board, Republic Act No. 9165

District of Columbia Department of Health, Medical Cannabis Evidence on Efficacy

Government of the District of Columbia, Facts on Marijuana in DC

Health Canada, Information for Health Care Professionals Cannabis (marijuana, marihuana) and the cannabinoids, February 2013

House of Representatives, House Bill 6157

National Conference of State Legislatures, State Medical Marijuana Laws

Philstar.com, Medical marijuana works, says Arroyo, Jan. 16, 2019

Presidential Communications and Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo, Dec. 18, 2018

U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Is Marijuana Safe and Effective as Medicine?

University of California San Diego, Cannabis 101: A Q&A with UC San Diego Health’s Cannabis Experts


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

(VERA Files is a part of Tsek.ph, a collaborative fact-checking initiative by the academe and the media for the 2019 Philippine midterm elections.)

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