Although Christie signed the medical marijuana bill in 2013, it took about two years for the state to approve growing and distribution centers - there's only five operational in the entire state - and Trenton strictly limited what illnesses and conditions would allow people to qualify for the program to a dozen.
Pennsylvania's commercial medical marijuana program is set to more than double in size.
Lehigh and Northampton counties comprise the southern border of Region 2, which will get three new dispensary permits. As Pennsylvania's medical marijuana market matures, only those dispensaries attached to a clinical registrant grower/processor will be able to tailor their inventory and marketing to patients according to the results of the research.
This second phase of licensing will max out the state's allotment of 25 grower/processor permits and 50 dispensary permits, as spelled out in the 2016 Medical Marijuana Act. Both can open up to three locations in the Northeast region, with no more than one in any given county.
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The measure also proposes a number of other changes to the state's medical marijuana law, including authorizing a person to serve as a primary caregiver for up to two patients.
Per the regulations, medical staff from partner schools will lend expertise and resources to ensure that those registrants are performing the highest-quality research into medical marijuana.
Each ACRC must be an accredited medical school in Pennsylvania that operates or partners with an acute care hospital licensed and operating within the state.
"We have two processes running here: a commercial and a research side", Collins said in a conference call Thursday with reporters outlining this next phase of the program. Applications for both permit categories are due May 17. Unsuccessful first-round applicants who appealed their denials can apply in the second round even if their administrative appeal remains open, health department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said. Clinical registrants in partnership with ACRCs can then use that research to tailor their genetics, cultivation methodology and processing.
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A grower/processor application carries a $10,000 nonrefundable fee, and the permit costs $200,000 for one year and $10,000 to renew.
Dispensary fees include a $5,000 application fee, which is nonrefundable, a $30,000 refundable permit fee and proof of $150,000 in capital.
Because the ACRC will be merely looking over the shoulder of clinical registrants performing the actual research and are not directly involved with the studies, formal DEA approval is not needed. Medical marijuana in that form could be inhaled as a vapor or consumed orally. It may be prescribed to residents who are certified to have one of 17 qualifying serious medical conditions.
Pennsylvania is the first among the states that have legalized medical marijuana to make medical marijuana research part of the law.
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The health systems will construct research studies focusing on medicinal applications but will not actually handle the cannabis plant or any of its products. Almost 7,000 have gotten their medical marijuana identification cards and obtained products from dispensaries. Despite this, many physicians won't provide their patients with the necessary records.