By MB Special Reports Team
There’s an apparent disconnect between the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) regarding the prevalence of the highly addictive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)–also known as liquid marijuana–in local vaping circles.
What the agency officials do agree on is that THC has a level of presence in the country albeit still a limited one based on the low quantities that have been entering.
“Sa mga parties yun ang ginagawa nila. Yung mga nagpa-party na nagda-drugs. They use liquid marijuana as a vape. (They use it in parties, those who use drugs during parties. They use liquid marijuana as a vape),” BOC Assistant Commissioner Vincent Philip Maronilla told the Manila Bulletin (MB).
“Yes, it’s very possible that it (vape) is going to be one of the [ways] that they can try to conceal having to inhale and use marijuana,” he noted, adding that those who have such proclivities are usually the affluent and “sosyal (socialites).”
PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon acknowledged in a separate interview that THC-laced vaping in the country was a possibility, but underscored that it is a “hypothetical and unverified allegation.”
“That remains to be proven. I don’t [have] intelligence relating [to] such. But that’s a possibility, we are not discounting anything at the moment. I’m not [privy to] such information,” he told MB.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s sudden ban on the public use and importation of vaping products last month has led those in the know to believe that the supposed abuse of THC via vape or e-cigarettes may have had something to do with the Palace order.
“The President has the access to [a] wide variety of sources of intelligence. We are not discounting the possibility na may nakarating na sa kanya na report na ganyan (that a report on that had reached him),” Carreon said.
“Pero ang pinag-ugatan ng kanyang order, una, was the reported incident ng nagkasakit na bata (But the root of his order initially had to do with the reported incident about the child getting sick),” he added.
Carreon was referring to the first-ever recorded case of electronic cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) from Central Visayas involving a 16-year-old girl who had been using e-cigarettes for six months.
Last May, a package from Shanghai, China, was seized by a Filipino-American at a mail exchange center in Pasay City. Inside the package were 30 vape cartridges containing liquid marijuana.
Despite this, Carreon thinks there is still “no trend” in the use of the device for illegal drugs. “That’s an isolated case.”
“We have one [proof that liquid marijuana is being concealed through vape cartridges]. But even in probability statistics, that wouldn’t make a trend. So hindi pwede [na sabihin na may trend],” the PDEA mouthpiece said.
According to Maronilla, the smuggling of liquid marijuana into the country is usually done by packaging it with the vape device itself.
“Most of the apprehensions that we’ve made is that pina-package siya kasama ng vape, yung machine, yung equipment na may kasamang vape [juice]. Ginagawa siyang parang vape (it’s being packaged with vape, the machine, the equipment with vape juice. They’re treating it like vape).”
A package of liquid marijuana concealed in pen ink cartridges was intercepted in January this year. It was a shipment from San Diego, California that was consigned to a minor. About eight months later, a package declared to contain “plant extract” turned out to be six boxes of bottled marijuana. It was shipped from Romania.
Citing intelligence reports, Maronilla said a pair of liquid marijuana cartridges sells for P10,000. “When they sell it, they sell it with the machine. Yes, [it’s an] underground [market],” he said, the sources of products being the United States and Europe.
“Medyo naging madalas lang nung nauso itong mga vape. So, about last year, ‘yan nauso siya (it became regular when vape started to be a trend. So, about last year, it became popular),” the official said.
The BoC official said apprehensions in connection with the substance have also become somewhat regular. “I’m sure some are just for personal use because we have been confiscating about 11 to 20 vials only.”
“That’s actually one danger of vape sometimes, if you aren’t able to regulate it and since it does not have proper labeling…of course if you can smell [it], I don’t know the technology now if [liquid marijuana] can be mixed with a different [scent],” Maronilla said.
Carreon said K-9 units are capable of sniffing out liquid marijuana. (Continued in part 3)
(Betheena Kae Unite, Joseph Pedrajas, and Ellson Quismorio contributed to this report)