Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is expanding into a second phase even as the first phase struggles to get off the ground.
The Department of Health announced Thursday it will open a new round of applications for additional dispensaries and growers/processors early next month.
Thirteen permits will be available for growers and processors, and 23 will be open to dispensaries.
Nine of those dispensaries could come to the Philadelphia region, according to the Department of Health.This next phase will also include permits for so-called clinical registrants, defined as accredited hospitals and medical schools interested in conducting research on marijuana.
Philadelphia’s own Thomas Jefferson University intends to become an "academic clinical research center" under Chapter 20 of the medical marijuana law, the school confirmed to NBC10.
The university got a head start in 2016 when it received a $3 million donation from Australian philanthropists Barry and Joy Lambert, whose grandchild suffers from a rare and severe form of epilepsy.
Their money helped to found Jefferson’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, which conducts clinical research on marijuana and provides educational resources for doctors, educators and even lawmakers.
To date, Pennsylvania is the only state to introduce a research component into its marijuana program. Ohio and Florida have explored similar arrangements, but nothing has been written into law yet.
“This could really put Pennsylvania into the forefront of this whole controversial and challenging area,” Dr. Charles Pollack, director of the Lambert Center, told NBC10 in an interview last spring.
Penn Medicine, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences are all interested in pursuing research options, the schools confirmed to NBC10.
Earlier this week, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine got a jump start and announced its intention to join the green rush.
“We believe that the research will be of great importance in determining the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis products in treating specific diseases,” the University of Pittsburgh said in a statement.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health could not say how many research applicants it expects to receive in this second phase. However, “theoretically, there is no limit,” a spokesperson said.
The rapid expansion of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program into the research realm comes at a time when dispensaries are still struggling to become fully operational.
Currently, there are only two dispensaries close to Philadelphia and neither is located in the city. Keystone Canna Remedies is located in Montgomery County and TerraVida Holistic Center in Bucks County.
Because of high demand, both businesses ran out of products shortly after opening to the public. Keystone temporarily closed its doors because of limited supply and TerraVida nearly sold out of inventory its first week.
“It’s been unbelievably insane,” TerraVida owner Chris Visco said. “It’s also been the most rewarding experience of my life.”
On an average day, up to 40 people cram into TerraVida’s waiting room, Visco said. Her dispensary has already served more than 1,850 patients, she said.
But out of her first 27 days open, TerraVida was only fully stocked half of that time.
Supplies are likely to increase now that additional cultivators are operational. When the medical cannabis program first debuted in February, only Cresco Yeltrah provided product to the entire state.
And that could change the price of marijuana, as well. Within the first month, some patients paid up to $1,000 for medicine, according to Philly 420’s Chris Goldstein.
When asked if price would be factored into phase two, the Office of Medical Marijuana told NBC10 the program will remain “market driven.”
“We will continue to monitor pricing,” John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, said.
In the meantime, he recommends patients calling dispensaries before making the drive.