By: Melissa Chapaska

The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act is uniquely focused on promoting medical marijuana research through its establishment of a state research program to study the impact of medical marijuana on the treatment and symptom management of serious medical conditions.  Unlike any other state, the Act specifically provides for permits for clinical medical marijuana research. Clinical medical marijuana research, unlike other provisions of the Act, is not prohibited under federal law.  Therefore, researchers will not have to contend with the federal vs.state law conflict faced by medical marijuana growers, processors, and dispensaries. 

The FDA and DEA have an established process for seeking approval for medical marijuana research.  The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act goes even further to simplify the federal application process for prospective medical marijuana researchers. Instead of making researchers apply for federal approval, the Act authorizes and directs the State’s Department of Health (DOH) to petition the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for approval to conduct medical marijuana research into serious medical conditions.  DOH is also specifically tasked to seek participation from health systems and universities to conduct this research.

However, even with the hurdle of federal approval removed, funding for medical marijuana research remains a concern for researchers.  As discussed in our previous blog quoting a recent DEA policy statement, while increasing the availability of medical marijuana supply is important, funding may be “the more important factor in whether research with marijuana takes place.”

Some federal funding for medical marijuana research is available through the National Institute of Health (NIH).  In 2015, the NIH provided about $132 million to fund cannabinoid research and estimates it will provide another $137 million to fund similar cannabinoid research in 2016.  However, critics argue that the amount spent by NIH on medical marijuana research is insufficient to support the amount of medical marijuana research still needed.

Thankfully, researchers in Pennsylvania will have access to another source of funding from the state.  Again, Pennsylvania’s research-focused Medical Marijuana Act takes its support a step further by establishing the Medical Marijuana Program Fund to raise money for medical marijuana research conducted by universities and health systems in the Commonwealth.  The funding comes from fees and taxes paid by medical marijuana organizations pursuant to the Act. The Act dedicates thirty-percent of the revenue from these fees and taxes to research: (1) medical marijuana treatment for serious medical conditions defined in the Act, and (2) the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for other medical conditions “for which medical marijuana may have legitimate medicinal value.”  Money in the fund can also be used to pay for the cost of the medical marijuana dispensed to patients in accordance with an approved research study.

Experienced in assisting universities and health care systems, Cannabis Law PA lawyers are uniquely qualified to assist potential medical marijuana researchers apply for federal and state funding.Money