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Judge Presses Pause on Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Research Plans

May 23, 2018
(gevende/iStock)
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A judge put a hold on plans to implement the research provision of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law Tuesday, siding with dispensaries and growers who challenged the Health Department’s approach.

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough issued a preliminary injunction that halted the agency’s regulations pertaining to handing out additional licenses to growers and dispensaries that partner for research with medical schools.

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McCullough said the regulations may go beyond provisions of the law and circumvent its detailed method of licensing growers and dispensaries.

“It appears to the court that the Legislature did intend for (clinical registrants) to exist exclusively for research purposes.”
Court ruling

“The regulations appear to be inconsistent with the legislative intent of Chapter 20, which was to permit distribution of medical marijuana for purposes of and in conjunction with research studies conducted jointly” with the medical schools, she wrote, adding the regulations seem “to require only a minimal commitment to research” in order to be licensed.

Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said the agency is considering its legal options.

“Research is a vital component of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program to improve treatment options for patients suffering from serious medical conditions, including opioid-use disorder,” Hutcheson said. “The research program was rolled out in consultation with the sponsors of the original legislation and our approach was meant to ensure lower costs, more accessibility and ground-breaking treatments.”

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Grower-producers and dispensaries have been selected and began selling to patients earlier this year under the 2016 law, but implementation of the unusual research component has been moving ahead more slowly.

The prospect of what they call “super permitees” that were not part of the highly competitive process being able to enter the commercial market prompted those already in the business to go to court.

Their lawyer, Judith Cassel, stressed that they are not opposed to research — that can go on without the special permits — but they believe entities labeled “clinical registrants” under the law should be doing research exclusively.

“We are happy that the court saw fit to provide a preliminary injunction so that a careful review could be done on the regulations,” Cassel said. “And hopefully, in the end, the regulations will better reflect the act.”

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The judge said the law’s explicit provisions about protecting intellectual property rights of research is support for the argument the clinical registrants were meant to do research, not sell to the wider market.

“It appears to the court that the Legislature did intend for (clinical registrants) to exist exclusively for research purposes, since otherwise, Chapter 20 would serve no purpose. If the Legislature desired to simply increase the number of grower/processor and dispensary permits in urban areas … it could have done so by adding such a provision” in the law, she wrote.

The existing businesses, McCullough wrote, provided testimony that their value dropped when the Health Department announced the Chapter 20 regulations in March, “because it signaled to investors that the department would treat the act’s statutory limit on permits as a suggestion rather than a mandate.”

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  • Catholic Boy

    Despite the headline, none of the current approved growers or dispensaries in the state’s MMJ program wish to curtail MMJ research. They are only saying that PA does not need 8 more growers and 48 new storefront dispensaries, especially ones with an inside tract against their competition. The existing PA growers and dispensers can handle all of the state’s MMJ research supply and demand load. That’s a fact. The winning MMJ growers and dispensary applicants went through two years of a fair, rigorous, and very expensive PA application process. They can now cover the state with 150 dispensaries. All the state’s applicants understood this figure to be the upper limit of their eventual business competition.

    AFTER THE FACT, a group of un-vetted (or previously rejected-applicants) from the application competition, and representing big money interests ($15,000,000 necessary investment) are being put in place to UNFAIRLY compete with the existing smaller businesses. If these businesses knew that this was coming, many of the small operators would never have entered the risky process to seek an MMJ license and start growing and dispensing (already well underway). Increasing the number of state-wide dispensaries by 25% amounts to removing the profit-margin from the MMJ business for many of these smaller operations.

    What will happen after these dispensaries can’t sustain themselves in the face of the new deep-pocket MMJ research competition in the PA marketplace? More will go under financially, while the big “research” players gobble up a larger and larger portion of a marketshare they were never intended to participate in. This would effectively make a sham of the state’s fair application process.

    Let the 8 medical research facilities work out arrangements with the existing MMJ growers and dispensers to cover all their MMJ research needs. This isn’t about research. It’s about un-vetted big-money muscling in the backdoor to usurp the winners of the state’s fair application process. Rep. Kathryn Watson (R-Bucks) know this She’s just keeping her foot in the door to facilitate the after-the-fact entry of big money interests.