Litigation has improved Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana research program. The program, Chapter 20 of the Medical Marijuana Act, pairs medical school/teaching hospitals with businesses that grow and dispense medical marijuana. Originally enacted as part of the act in April 2016, Chapter 20 allowed for licensing of teaching hospitals associated with medical schools to do research (dubbed Academic Clinical Research Centers or ACRCs) and offered eight permits to businesses that would grow and dispense medical marijuana (clinical registrants or CRs) for clinical trial purposes. Entities approved as CRs would have a grower/processor permit and a “super” dispensary permit providing six dispensary locations rather than the three allowed for commercial dispensary permittees. But while Chapter 20 of the act made clear its primary focus was on research, it left important questions unanswered. Could CRs compete with other medical marijuana permittees for commercial sales? Did a CR applicant need to have a contract with an ACRC before it could apply for CR status? Did the contract need to be exclusive? Did a CR applicant need to have grower/processor and dispensary permits before it could apply for CR status? Two lawsuits, which resulted in one statutory amendment and two additional sets of administrative regulations, appear to have finally produced definitive answers to the questions, a more open CR selection process and CR day-to-day operations that will place research first.

The story begins with the Department of Health’s (DOH) staged rollout of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. DOH prioritized the establishment of administrative processes for selecting and permitting the statutory maximum of 25 grower/processors and 50 dispensaries, enrolling patients, and certifying physicians and laboratories, with the goal of enabling patients to obtain Pennsylvania-grown medical marijuana from Pennsylvania dispensaries as quickly as possible. The rollout was remarkably successful. DOH was able to receive applications for grower/processor and dispensary permits less than a year after the act became law, issue permits by June 2017, and oversee the first Pennsylvania dispensary sales of Pennsylvania-grown and processed medical marijuana by February 2018. Competition for grower/processor and dispensary permits was intense: only 1 in 10 of the applicants for the 13 grower/processor and 27 dispensary permits issued in the first phase got a permit.

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