Court halts licensing for marijuana research
The Pennsylvania Department of Health's plans to license marijuana producers and dispensaries associated with medical schools for research was placed on hold Monday, pending court review.
Ruling for a group of previously licensed cannabis growers and retail dispensaries , Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough issued a preliminary injunction halting action on the state's pioneering medical marijuana research program until the court can hear arguments from them. They claim the state changed the rules governing its nascent research initiative months after they invested millions of dollars in licensing and startup costs.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf certified eight Pennsylvania medical schools , including University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, to conduct research in conjunction with the state's medical marijuana program. That cleared the way for the schools to negotiate deals with “clinical registrants,” or CRs, that could then apply for licenses.
Regulations issued in March called for the state to begin to accept applications for grower-dispensary licenses for CRs beginning Thursday. Under the regulations, each CR would be granted a license for one grow room and up to six retail dispensaries.
A group of 11 licensees, including Cresco Yeltrah, which has a dispensary in Butler and cultivating facility in Jefferson County, however, filed a petition seeking an injunction to halt licensing CRs, pending court argument. Their lawyer, Judith Cassel, argued the state's regulations governing CRs ran counter to the intent of the law that suggested CRs would have been limited to research. The plan to issue grower/dispensary licenses to CRs would have created a group of super licensees poised to flood the market for medical marijuana, she said.
A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said officials aren't backing down on their commitment to the program.
“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 groundbreaking treatments. We will continue to pursue our nation-leading research component, and we are evaluating our legal options. We remain committed to ensuring that Pennsylvanians with serious medical conditions have access to a high quality, efficient and scientifically based medical marijuana program,” April Hutcheson said.
The court has yet to schedule further proceedings.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016. Dispensaries opened in February.
Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 21 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.
Qualified patients with a doctor's recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed dispensary. Dispensaries also are allowed to sell equipment, such as vaping devices for liquid forms, to administer medical marijuana.
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 , derdley@ tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib