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State nixes applicants for medical marijuana researchOne rejected applicant plans to appeal decision

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The first eight applicants for the state's medical marijuana research program were declined by the Department of Health - a sign that critics of the program's selection process said shows its flaws.

The state’s research program allows eight clinical registrants - selected by eight approved academic clinical research centers - to grow, process and dispense marijuana for research purposes.

All eight of the registrants hoping to join the program received letters this week detailing why there weren’t chosen.

"Our goal is to ensure that our research program operates at the highest standards. We are disappointed that awards were not made, but must uphold the standards set out in the regulations," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a press release.

The applicants were judged based on their diversity plans, plans of operations, community impact and organization, ownership, capital and tax status according to the department.

Curaleaf, a medical marijuana provider based in Wakefield, Massachusetts was among those declined. Its president and CEO, Joseph Lusardi, said the company planned to appeal the decision.

"We have been fully committed to this program for the last two years and we plan on using every possible remedy to get this critical program off the ground," Lusardi said.

The department has been under fire for the process it uses to choose clinical registrants, which allows academic clinical research centers to select providers even if they do not have licenses awarded through the state’s vetting process for other companies that grow, process and sell medical marijuana.

A group of medical marijuana permit holders is currently suing the department on the grounds that it is unlawfully delegating the selection of clinical registrants to the research centers and not choosing providers already vetted.

"We feel that the decision to not award these permits is a confirmation of the claims in our suit,” said Judith Cassel, an attorney representing the permit holders. She is with Harrisburg law firm Hawke McKeon & Sniscack LLP. "Academic clinical research centers should not be in the driver’s seat. They should pick from a pool already approved."

The department is now accepting a second round of applicants for the research program. The academic centers choosing that second round of applicants includes Penn State College of Medicine and seven others.

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Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis covers health care and Lancaster County. Email him at ipashakis@cpbj.com.

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