The Pennsylvania Department of Health has just released application guidelines for hospitals and universities that are interested in conducting medical cannabis research. This is a part of the second phase of the state’s medical cannabis program rollout.
Pennsylvania is the first state to allow medical cannabis research under its medical cannabis program. The legislation passed by voters includes a provision to promote marijuana studies at various medical schools.
The cannabis research application guidelines
The health department’s recently released cannabis research application plan outlines the process by which hospitals and medical schools in the state can seek approval to conduct such studies. Permits will be issued to “clinical registrants” allowed to conduct research.
According to the health department’s regulations, medical staff from partner medical institutions will lend their resources and expertise to ensure that the registrants are performing high-quality medical cannabis research. These partner schools are called Academic Clinical Research Centers.
And because these ACRCs will only be looking over the shoulder of the clinical registrants as they perform the actual research and will not be directly involved in the studies, a formal approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration is no longer necessary.
The first school to confirm their interest in the medical cannabis research program was the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The University of the Sciences, Penn Medicine, and Drexel University have also expressed interest to add cannabis research to their current program.
“We believe research will be very important in determining the efficacy and safety of medical cannabis in treating specific diseases.” – University of Pittsburgh
The state will issue permits to as many as eight medical schools to conduct research on medical cannabis. However, the health department said there is no limit to the number of research facilities that will be permitted under Phase 2 of the medical cannabis program.
Approved medical schools will also work with separate cannabis growers and distributors who will supply the cannabis for research. These third-party vendors will also supply cannabis products to patients who are enrolled in the program. The suppliers will also need to separately apply for an approval from the state.
Pennsylvania regulators expect to receive applications from more processors, growers, and dispensaries next month.
Pennsylvania to further expand cannabis program
Pennsylvania moved to legalize medical cannabis in 2016. To date, it is the only state in the country to include a research component in its cannabis program. The states of Florida and Ohio have explored the same arrangements, but they have not yet written anything into law.
So far, 13 dispensaries have been approved to sell medical cannabis to patients in the state, though only nine of them are actively doing so. Also, currently, only two of the 12 licensed cultivators have begun shipping products to the approved dispensaries.
State officials said that there are plans to add 13 new medical cannabis growers to the supply chain and 23 new cannabis dispensaries in the state.
More dispensaries will be added under the expansion plan, which actually calls for a total of 51 cannabis dispensaries to eventually serve Pennsylvania.
Medical cannabis shortage
The expansion of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program into the field of research comes at a time when cannabis dispensaries in the state still struggle to become fully operational.
Pennsylvania may have legalized medical cannabis in 2016, but dispensaries only started serving patients last month. Plus, within just a couple of weeks, product shortages have impeded the ability of these dispensaries to operate.
For example, only two dispensaries – Keystone Canna Remedies and TerraVida Holistic Center – are currently located close to Philadelphia and none within the city. And because of high demand, these two businesses ran out of cannabis products shortly after they opened to the public. Keystone even had to temporarily close its doors due to limited supply.
Supplies are expected to increase now that more cannabis cultivators are operational. Last month, when the state’s medical cannabis program debuted, it was only Cresco Yeltrah that provided the product to the whole state.