Pubdate: Fri, 23 Mar 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


Pennsylvania's commercial medical marijuana program is set to more
than double in size.

State officials Thursday announced the program was entering its second
phase, expanding from 12 to 25 cannabis producers and adding 23 more
dispensary operators.

The state also is launching a unique research effort that will run in
parallel to the established commercial program, conducting clinical
investigations into marijuana and selling to the public.

"From what I've seen and heard, there seems to be a high interest in
doing research around pain management and as a replacement for
opioids," John Collins, director of the state marijuana program, said
in a phone conference with reporters.

When the commercial program is fully up to speed by late next year,
Pennsylvania is expected to have a total of 25 commercial companies
growing and processing marijuana into tinctures and vaporizable oils.

And there will be as many as 150 commercial retail outlets selling it
to patients.

The first sales began Feb. 15, and demand quickly outstripped supply.
But those shortages have eased recently. Currently, two commercial
producers are shipping medicinal products. Nine retail outlets are
actively dispensing, Collins said.

The number of growers and dispensers will further balloon with the
launch of the nation's first state-sanctioned academic research program.

Under Pennsylvania's new research program, eight health systems --
medical schools affiliated with an urgent-care hospital -- will be
able to choose a marijuana producer, Collins said.

The research producers not only will be granted a lucrative permit to
grow; they also will be awarded a permit to operate six dispensaries

(That will take the total number of growers in the state to 33 and
dispensaries to 198.)

The health systems are permitted to accept "reasonable remuneration"
to set up their research programs from the marijuana companies but are
forbidden to solicit gifts from company owners, managers, or backers.
Charitable contributions made a year before the enactment of the law
are exempt.

Pennsylvania has eight major university health systems. The four based
in Philadelphia -- Drexel, Temple, Jefferson, and the University of
Pennsylvania -- have all expressed interest in conducting research,
according to industry insiders. Also eligible are the University of
Pittsburgh Medical Center, Geisinger Health, Penn State-Hershey, and
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The health systems will construct research studies focusing on
medicinal applications but will not actually handle the cannabis plant
or any of its products. That's because federal law outlaws marijuana
in any form. Handling the drug would jeopardize federal grants and
funds flowing from Medicare and Medicaid.

The research dispensaries will enroll patients into those studies. The
health systems will analyze the data the dispensaries collect. The
dispensaries also will sell marijuana products to patients who are not
participating in studies.

The Department of Health will begin to accept applications for
commercial and research phase 2 permits April 5.

Aspiring commercial growers and dispensary operators who lost in the
first round are required to apply again and pay application fees --
$10,000 for a grow, $5,000 for a dispensary -- a second time, said a
Health Department spokeswoman.
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