Catholic bishops in the Philippines are urging caution as the nation debates the legalization of medical marijuana.

In January, the Philippine House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) No.6517, which would allow right of access to medical cannabis, and allow expanded research into its medicinal properties.

Marijuana is currently a banned substance in the Philippines under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he would never sign a bill legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes, claiming people would use the legislation as an excuse to grow it for recreational purposes.

This is a reversal of his previous position, when in December last year he even said he used marijuana to stay awake. (The president later claimed he was joking.)

The former president, and current house speaker, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has supported the legislation, and admitted she used marijuana in countries where it was legal to ease chronic neck pain.

The president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, has said the law does not need to be changed, since the 2002 law allows for the use of banned substances in “exceptional cases.”

Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio of the country’s military diocese said officials should make “prudent decisions” on the subject, based upon medical studies.

He told CBCPNews that if medical marijuana would benefit patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, “then let us, by all means, use it.”

However, he added, “this is not also a blanket authority that we can use it without the rule of prudence.”

In a 2015 pastoral letter, the bishops said the use of marijuana could be justified to alleviate the suffering of dying patients if all other options had been exhausted.