Pennsylvania Tosses All Medical Marijuana Research Applications, Will Restart Program in 2019
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Pennsylvania Tosses All Medical Marijuana Research Applications, Will Restart Program in 2019

Amid an ongoing lawsuit, the state has scrapped the applications for eight clinical registrant licenses.

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December 6, 2018

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has rejected all applications from medical marijuana growers seeking a “clinical registrant” license in the state. This program, tucked into the 2016 voter-approved medical marijuana law and finalized by the department in March 2018, would connect the winning applicants with eight state medical schools for cannabis research. According to state officials, “none of the eight applicants met the rigorous requirements of the competitive application review process.”  

The state did not elaborate on what requirements were not met.

A lawsuit filed (and re-filed) earlier this year, however, contends that the Department of Health (DOH) was “abdicating its constitutional obligation to vet and choose permit winners” and letting those clinical registration applicants choose the school with which to work. The civil complaint is helmed by a group of unnamed licensed medical marijuana companies under the collective moniker Medical Marijuana Advocates for Research. The net effect, according to attorney Judith Cassel, is the risk of a “pay to play” model, which could put these medical cannabis research partnerships in the hands of highest bidder (through, say, donations to a particular medical school).  

Litigation is ongoing. A judge had previously sided with Medical Marijuana Advocates for Research, but the group ultimately felt that changes made by the Department of Health did not go far enough in ameliorating the issue. The complaint was re-filed in early December.

A new application period will open in the spring of 2019, according to the DOH. As of early December, the department had issued 25 grower/processor licenses and 27 retail permits across 42 individual dispensaries.

The clinical registrants, whenever they are approved by the state, will be granted what the lawsuit refers to as a “super-permit”: a grower/processor license and a retail license for up to six dispensaries in Pennsylvania.

On the other side of the medical cannabis research partnership, the eight schools selected for this program include:

  • Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia;
  • Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia;
  • Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey;
  • Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia;
  • The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia;
  • University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh;
  • Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine-Erie (LECOM); and
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia.

According to the DOH, “more than 93,000 patients in Pennsylvania have registered to participate in the medical marijuana program, and more than 62,000 have identification cards and are able to purchase medical marijuana at a dispensary. Approximately 1,360 physicians have registered for the program, 945 of whom have been approved as practitioners.”

In a message to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson wrote: “Pennsylvanians should rest assured that, one way or another, our efforts to allow for research into epilepsy, cancer, autism, and a whole host of other serious conditions suffered by children throughout the commonwealth will prevail.”