Pennsylvania medical cannabis operators renew legal challenge

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Pennsylvania medical marijuana, Pennsylvania medical cannabis operators renew legal challenge

A group of licensed medical marijuana companies resumed efforts to challenge Pennsylvania’s MMJ clinical research program in court, saying the effort needs to pause until it has a transparent vetting process for selecting cultivators.

At the heart of the lawsuit, filed last week against the state in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania: The companies selected by medical schools to cultivate and process cannabis for research purposes also would be allowed to compete in the commercial market, with a lower barrier of entry than other licensed MMJ operators.

The first-of-its-kind medical cannabis research program was halted temporarily by a Pennsylvania judge earlier this year because of similar concerns, and legislators made revisions to the program during the summer.

But Pennsylvania attorney Judith Cassel, who is representing a group calling itself the Medical Marijuana Advocates for Research, said the same “egregious” flaws exist as before.

Here is how the program is designed to work:

  • The state has designated eight medical schools, called Academic Clinical Research Centers (ACRCs), to conduct clinical research on MMJ. Each school is contracting with a company to cultivate the marijuana.
  • The cultivators, called clinical registrants, will be allowed to operate up to six dispensaries, thus competing with existing commercial MMJ licensees.
  • Because the clinical registrants are chosen by the research centers, they don’t go through the same tough competitive process that commercial applicants faced. Cassel’s lawsuit cites an example where a clinical registrant scored 105th out of 177 applicants in the state’s first MMJ licensing round.

“We want an open, transparent, competitive process with no backdoor deals,” Cassel said.

The suit also suggests the universities and colleges are susceptible to “pay for play” deals, where companies obtain contracts in exchange for donations or other funds.

Pennsylvania health department officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

But a health department spokeswoman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that while she couldn’t comment on pending litigation, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the state’s bipartisan General Assembly were “ united in their support” of the research program.