Pennsylvania Wants to Reinstate University-Led Medical Marijuana Research Program
Legislators are trying their hardest to facilitate cannabis research at local colleges, but Pennsylvania’s licensed ganjapreneurs still argue the system is ripe with loopholes.
Published on June 21, 2018

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Representatives in the Pennsylvania House advanced legislation to reinstate a university-led medical marijuana research program this week, despite continued protest from the state's already-licensed legal weed businesses.

According to Pennsylvania Live, Keystone State representatives voted 167-31 in favor of House Bill 2477, which they say will guarantee scientific research from ganjapreneurs awarded "clinical registrant" licenses.

"We worked very hard so that indeed real research not only will have the opportunity to occur, but it's going to be required to occur," Republican Representative Kathy Watson, who sponsored HB2477, said.

Included in Pennsylvania's April 2016 medical marijuana legalization law, the state's university research program is poised to be one of the nation's most progressive cannabis initiatives, with eight approved universities teaming up with specially-licensed cultivators and distributors to study the controversial plant. Since federal prohibition has long carried the looming threat of funding cuts and DEA prosecution, university administrators and research teams have typically avoided weed altogether.

Last month, Governor Tom Wolf called a press conference to announce the eight universities that would lead the research initiative, saying the work done at Pennsylvania colleges would "shape the future of treatment for patients across the country." Just one week later, though, the almost-set program was brought to a complete halt by a Commonwealth Court injunction.

In Pennsylvania's medical marijuana laws, cannabis cultivators working with university researchers, or Clinical Registrants (CR), must be licensed by the same state body as dispensaries serving the state's 20,000+ registered patients. At the same time, CRs are not required to meet the same rigorous vetting process as more traditional cannabusinesses. In addition, the state's CR regulations do not explicitly require license holders to work only with university researchers, leaving a window open for those distinct permit holders to abandon their research goals and try their hand at competing with for-profit dispensaries.

Responding to that uneven playing field, a group of 11 medical marijuana license holders filed a lawsuit against the state, winning an immediate injunction to halt the program in late May. HB2477 is an attempt from the Pennsylvania legislature to reconcile that court case and reinstate the planning and start of the marijuana research program as quickly as possible.

"The commonwealth has an interest in creating a mechanism whereby the commonwealth's medical schools and hospitals can help develop research programs and studies," HB2477 details.

Still, the medical marijuana providers who originally filed the lawsuit say that the newly-passed amendment still falls short of guaranteeing equal scrutiny and standards across all license types.

"It doesn't solve the fact that people who never went through the vetting process, or went through the vetting process and failed, can get a clinical registrant permit," Judith Cassel, a lawyer for the companies that sued over the regulations, told the Associated Press.

HB2477 will now move to the Pennsylvania State Senate for debate and vote. If passed in its current form, Cassel has said that her clients will continue to challenge the validity of the state's CR license inspection process.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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