By MB Special Reports Team
Philippine authorities can’t let liquid marijuana become the next lucrative thing in illegal drugs.
“Let us not wait for liquid marijuana to become a trend [in the Philippines],” Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, House Committee on Dangerous Drugs chairman, told Manila Bulletin in an interview after learning that the substance has been trickling in the country through its possible use with e-cigarettes or vape devices.
“Economy of scale says that cost will go down if production is high enough. This means that we shouldn’t let the demand skyrocket or else liquid marijuana will become even more accessible,” noted Barbers, who was visibly shocked regarding the local presence of liquid marijuana, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin, Bureau of Customs (BOC) Assistant Commissioner Vincent Philip Maronilla – citing intelligence reports – spoke of posh “vaping parties” where the main attraction was THC vape juice.
While acknowledging the possibility that THC has reached local vape circles, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) spokesman Derrick Carreon said these illicit vaping parties remain unsubstantiated. He also downplayed the recent confiscation of liquid marijuana as isolated cases.
“For me it’s disturbing that the PDEA doesn’t know what the BOC is aware of. Shouldn’t they be sharing intelligence with each other? There’s no reason not to, especially when you work for the government in good faith,” Barbers said.
Citing the reported entry of THC in the country, Barbers said: “Apparently drug syndicates have shifted to the production of liquid marijuana as this is easier to conceal in its transport. In addition, this has perhaps more appeal to the youth who are already dependent on the use of [e-cigarettes].
Last November 20, President Duterte declared that, in line with his aspiration for Filipinos to enjoy optimal health, he would ban the public use and importation of e-cigarettes. There is speculation that the Palace order was brought about by the reports of alleged THC abuse via these small, electronic gadgets.
Quezon 4th District Rep. Angelina Tan, a doctor by profession, agreed with the ban from a health perspective. “I am very happy that the President himself stated his position on that matter.”
“As a health advocate, and the chair of the Committee on Health, I share same stand with the President on banning of importation of vape products but we also need to look into the local manufacturers of the product. So if we are going to ban importation [we] might as well [impose] total ban even in local,” Tan said.
What now for e-cigarette regulation, medical cannabis?
Barbers and Tan are two of a handful of congressmen seeking the regulation of the local e-cigarette industry. There are at least 15 such measures that have been referred for the Committee on Trade and Industy, chaired by Valenzuela City 1st District Rep. Weslie Gatchalian.
During the House panel’s first hearing last Monday, December 2, on the proposed regulation of e-cigarettes –which Gatchalian gave the umbrella term, “Electronic Nicotine Delivery System” or ENDS – a “chicken and egg problem” emerged.
Pro-ENDS resource persons echoed the common marketing of the device as a “smoking-cessation tool,” meaning it was designed to stop people from smoking traditional cigarettes. ENDS user-groups attested to its effectivity, saying some of their members have quit smoking after taking up e-cigarettes.
But for pro-health advocates, ENDS are just as bad as traditional cigarettes since they give the user the same set of harmful chemicals. More importantly, then don’t consider dropping combustible cigarettes in favor of ENDS as “quitting smoking,” since both have essentially the same effect on the users’ bodies.
It remains to be seen how the reports on liquid marijuana will affect the handling of the House Bills to regulate ENDS.
Perhaps, even more intriguing is the how the threat posed by THC to ENDS user would affect the move to have medical cannabis (marijuana) legalized this 18th Congress. The controversial measure was passed on third and final reading in the House of Representatives during the tail end of the previous 17th Congress last January, but lack of time prevented it from prospering in the Senate.
“I believe it won’t have any effect on my bill,” Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, one of the top proponents of the revived measure in the current Congress. Rep. Albano is the brother of staunch medical cannabis proponent, former congressman and now Isabela Governor Rodito Albano.
“Under my bill, medical marijuana will only be administered on the patient by a doctor. There is no opportunity for substance abuse here since the use of cannabis will be in a very controlled environment,” he explained.
Patients with chronic medical conditions such as arthritis, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, just to name a few, may benefit from medical cannabis, proponents said.
Regarding liquid marijuana, Rep. Albano claimed that it’s been “here in the country for a long time.” He said e-cigarette users should be careful in purchasing the oils or juices for their devices. (Betheena Kae Unite, Joseph Pedrajas, and Ellson A. Quismorio contributed to this report)