In recent years, we’ve seen medical breakthroughs in cannabis come from all over the country—even the hinterlands of pot policy like Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act in April 2016.
“This is a great, great day for Pennsylvania,” he exclaimed at the time in the state’s Capitol Building, surrounded by an overflowing crowd of lawmakers and medical marijuana patients and their families.
The bill yielded OK results so far: Pennsylvania has certified 44,000 cannabis patients, as well as over 800 practitioners.
Yet one of its most exciting features—a mandate for medical research—came up against big roadblocks, and Wolf failed to greenlight the program until September.
Originally, the bill designated research centers at universities to conduct studies related to the state’s list of 21 qualifying medical conditions. But plans came to a halt in May, when 11 cannabis cultivators and dispensary permit holders filed an injunction. A revised bill, Act 43, passed in June. Wolf certified the first eight research centers last month.
“The research component of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program sets it apart from the rest of the nation,” said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. “Pennsylvania’s premiere medical schools will be able to help shape the future of treatment for patients not just here, but across the country.”
States Outpace Federal Research
Pennsylvania exemplifies a new trend: states acting like nations, conducting research where the federal government will not. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, for instance, has conducted nine far-ranging studies since 2015. California has similarly supported cannabis research at universities including UCLA and UC San Diego.
In Pennsylvania, the eight approved universities, most of which are in the greater Philadelphia area, may study PTSD, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, opioid use disorder, and more. Each ACRC submitted an application to the state; funding will come from the universities themselves.
“The schools have the opportunity to choose any of these diseases to conduct research on, to better educate the Commonwealth and the entire country on medical marijuana,” Levine said.
Along the way, these burgeoning cannabis researchers may teach all of us something new, no matter whether we call Pennsylvania home.