Pennsylvania’s determination to lead the nation in medical marijuana research could backfire. In fact, Pennsylvania cannabis growers threatened to sue the state over Health Department rules they say creates an uneven playing field.
Pennsylvania Wants to Set Up The Nation’s First Major Medical Cannabis Research Program
For years, cannabis advocates have demanded more government support and funding for medical cannabis research. Looking to answer the call, Pennsylvania lawmakers moved to set up what would be the nation’s first major medical marijuana research program.
The program would give eight of the state’s teaching hospitals, like the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson Health, the chance to contract with a medical cannabis producer in the state.
The contracts would be massive for any company that got one. Experts estimate each contract could be worth tens of millions of dollars. Furthermore, the program would give companies that partnered with hospitals a license to operate large indoor grows and open six retail dispensaries, reports the Inquirer.
“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,” said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks), one of the program’s supporters.
But from the outset, some of Pennsylvania’s cannabis producers have fought to block the provisions for the program. The group of commercial growers and retailers say it gives companies that partner with hospitals an unfair advantage on the market.
Pennsylvania Cannabis Growers Say New Research Program Creates an Unfair Licensing Shortcut
The growers and retailers opposed to the research program have two issues with the state’s ambitious proposal.
First, they say that hospital-producer partnerships would saturate the market with medical marijuana and kill any businesses without those lucrative contracts. Second, the growers and retailers say the Health Department made it too easy for companies to get their licenses.
In other words, the provisions in the program gave companies that were able to secure contracts with hospitals a shortcut. Namely, around the costly and hyper-competitive process of bidding for licenses.
Judith Cassel, a lawyer working on behalf of the group, put it this way. “People who never when through the vetting process, or went through the vetting process and failed. They can get a clinical registrant permit.”
The growers and retailers took their complaint to court back in April. In May, they won a temporary injunction, effectively shutting down the state’s research program.
The judge’s ruling placed an injunction on the Health Department regulations for awarding licenses to companies partnering with medical schools. The judge found that the regulations only required a minimal research commitment from hospital-contracted companies.
But on Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s House voted 163-31 to reinstate the research program’s provisions and lift the injunction.
In a debate before the vote, Rep. Gerald Mullery (D-Luzerne) also argued that the rules were not fair to companies that completed the state’s rigorous licensing process. He said the plan to quickly grow the medical marijuana market would not create a level playing field for companies.
Pennsylvania Cannabis Growers Threaten To Sue If Bill Passes
However, if the amendment reinstating the research program’s licensing regulations makes it through the Senate, Cassel says her clients will sue the state.
It’s not that the growers want to bring down the Health Department or a pioneering research program. But they want to make sure the regulations actually put the right amount of emphasis on medical cannabis research.