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Medical Marijuana Research Halted After Concerns Raised By PA Grower-Processors

Keith Srakocic
In this Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 file photo, a woman holds the prescribed medical marijuana product used to treat her daughter's epilepsy after making a purchase at a medical marijuana dispensary in Butler, Pa.

A Commonwealth Court judge has ordered a preliminary injunction on Pennsylvania's plan for medical marijuana research, siding with dispensaries and growers who challenged the state Health Department’s approach.

The disagreement stems from a section of the regulation called Chapter 20, which gives grower-processors that partner with universities special privileges over others in the market.

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

“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.

Grower-producers and dispensaries went through a rigorous and expensive process for licenses after medical marijuana was signed into law in April of 2016 by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The selected businesses began selling to patients earlier this year under the 2016 law, but implementation of the research component has been moving ahead more slowly.

Judith Cassel, the lawyer representing the contesting grower-processors, said her clients are concerned the additional licenses would give the university-partnered groups an unfair advantage in the medical marijuana market.

Cassel stressed that they are not opposed to research — which can go on without the special permits — but they believe the partner entities should do 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.”

In a statement, state health department spokesperson April 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.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.