The House of Representatives of the Philippines will begin debating the merits of legalizing medical marijuana next month after three bills on the issue were filed.

All of the bills aim to remove cannabis from the country’s list of dangerous drugs and one would set up a Philippine Cannabis Development Authority. House Deputy Speaker for Finance Luis Ray Villafuerte Jr. is backing the bid to see the Philippines establish a legal medicinal cannabis industry framework.

He admitted that it is not a “priority matter” for the government, but he hopes the debate will help it gain momentum and he is confident it can pass into law. “All we need to do is convince the President and the senators that medical cannabis can help with opioid addiction and there’s medical proof to that,” said Congressman Villafuerte, who is known as LRay and sits on a number of key committees.

President Rodrigo Duterte said last year he opposes the legalization of medicinal cannabis as he fears Filipinos will simply use it as an excuse to cultivate marijuana for recreational purposes. Yet he had previously declared he was open to legalization and Villafuerte hopes he can be talked around.

Duterte, whose war on drugs is estimated to have killed thousands of Filipinos, once said he used marijuana to stay awake and boost his productivity, although he later retracted the statement and claimed he was joking.

Southeast Asia has never been known as a liberal region when it comes to marijuana. There is a long history of cultivation, but it has remained illegal and many countries hand out harsh penalties to anyone found guilty of breaching drug laws.

However, Thailand recently became the first country in the region to permit medical marijuana and the government is now producing it in a large facility near Bangkok. Malaysia has also taken steps towards legalization and advocates hope the Philippines will follow suit.

Cannabis has been illegal there since 1972 by virtue of Republic Act No. 6425, and the importation, sale, maintenance of a den, dive or resort, manufacture, use, and cultivation of marijuana and marijuana-related products should be met with life imprisonment and a fine.

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