OPED: Bi-partisan effort on medical marijuana research

State Sen. Mike Folmer
48th District
Sen. Mike Folmer yells, "We won," as he speaks before Gov. Tom Wolf signs the medical cannabis bill into law in the rotunda of the Capitol in Harrisburg, Sunday, April 17, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Much has been accomplished since my medical cannabis legislation was signed into law in 2016. Twelve grower/processor and 27 dispensary permits were awarded and a number of facilities have opened, allowing patients across the commonwealth to receive medicine. 

The recent approval of 13 additional grower/processors and the expected approval of 23 additional dispensary permits should help with both availability and the price of medical cannabis products.

I was pleased to work with state Rep. Kathy Watson to include a research component as part of Pennsylvania’s 2016 law, as I believe it will make our commonwealth a leader in the nation for medical cannabis research.

It is often called “Chapter 20” because this is the section number where the research details of the law are found.

Under these provisions, eight of Pennsylvania’s nine medical schools were previously approved to conduct medical cannabis research as Academic Clinical Research Centers:  Drexel University College of Medicine (Philadelphia), Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (Philadelphia), Penn State College of Medicine (Hershey), Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia), Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pittsburgh), Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (Erie), and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (Philadelphia).

However, shortly after the Chapter 20 research regulations were issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, they were challenged and a court issued a preliminary injunction to stop their implementation. 

Fortunately, a majority of my colleagues in the Senate and House agreed with me that such a delay would be an absolute travesty for patients. 

Patients have been — and will continue to be — my focus in bringing this much needed medicine to Pennsylvania.

Some patients are already travelling long distances to get their medicine and all patients pay for their medicines out of their own pockets as medical cannabis isn’t covered by insurance.

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The court apparently misunderstood medical cannabis in general and Chapter 20 in particular in issuing the preliminary injunction: “There will be sufficient or surplus supply to meet current patient demand.”

Thanks to bipartisan collaboration, legislation was passed to clarify the legislative intent of Chapter 20 and the governor signed it into law.

At the same time, this new law makes clearer a number of issues related to medical cannabis research. Chapter 20 permits are in addition to the 25 grower/processor permits and the 50 dispensary permits (plus the original law’s five permit holders who are able to operate as both a grower/processor and as a dispensary). Chapter 20 provides for eight additional grower/processor and dispensary permits.

All eight Academic Clinical Research Centers must be approved by the Department of Health before entering into contracts with a party known as a “clinical registrant” that will help to foster research. These contracts must be approved by the department as well.

Clinical registrants will continue to be required to comply with the same fees and obligations as other grower/processors and dispensaries. This includes the $2 million in fees to be a grower/processor and the $150,000 in fees to be a dispensary. Chapter 20 applicants must also demonstrate they have an additional $15 million in capital in order to be considered for permits to operate as a medical marijuana organization under Chapter 20.

I was pleased to be part of this bipartisan effort to clarify the medical cannabis law and I look forward to its continued implementation, including — and especially — the important research components of the Chapter 20 provisions.

— State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature.