By Mark Scolforo
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”