Lawsuit Threatens Important Medical Marijuana Research
By Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th)
When the Pennsylvania General Assembly considered legislation in 2016 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use only, I met some extraordinary families. These families – who care for loved ones with seizures or other difficult to treat conditions – often went to great expense and travel to obtain cannabinol oil so that their family member would have some relief.

My colleagues and I wanted to help so many of these families and others find a way to ease symptoms of debilitating and often fatal conditions. We heard so many accounts of how this simple, plant-based oil could reduce seizures in children, take away nausea of cancer patients or help a veteran with PTSD. But what we heard was anecdotal.

A large part of the debate in the House focused on whether or not medical marijuana is actually effective and for what conditions and diseases. Sadly, we had no answers to many of our questions. Due to marijuana still being illegal at the federal level, scientists are unable to conduct research into the plant. Without science-based evidence, many of my colleagues had serious reservations about legalizing the substance and openly defying the federal government.

To help fill that missing void and strike a compromise, I offered an amendment to the overall legislation – which became Act 16 – that would open the door for research. Pennsylvania is home to a number of world-class medical schools that have made ground-breaking discoveries in health care, and so it made only sense that our state become the first in the nation to find a way to conduct such research.

My amendment – now known as Chapter 20 within the law – received widespread support. When I explained my idea during our internal caucus session, I knew that this was the compromise needed to get medical marijuana over the goal line. Ironically, I was ill the day we considered that amendment in the House, but the idea drew the support of all but three of my 203 colleagues. For the first time, patients in Pennsylvania and elsewhere would have legitimate medical answers.

As written in the bill, Chapter 20 allows Pennsylvania’s medical schools and hospitals to work with the growers of medical marijuana so that research into the effectiveness of various strains and delivery methods can be conducted.

If a medical school will work with a hospital, then that partnership can enter into a contract with an entity that holds a permit to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana. The academic clinical research center will provide advice to the grower/processor/dispensary regarding patient health, patient safety and applications of medical marijuana. Together, they will construct research projects designed to increase the efficacy and efficiency of medical marijuana.

But now, as Chapter 20 is poised to take effect and research is about to begin, a lawsuit has essentially put progress on hold and patients will have to wait even longer.

According to testimony before the Commonwealth Court last week, commercial growers and processors that are not part of Chapter 20 claim they didn’t know about the research portion of the new law, even though the law has been in place for two years and it received widespread media attention when it passed. The plaintiffs claim they would have developed different business models had they known about Chapter 20 and they have lost millions of dollars in the process.

I don’t buy that argument. Since the law went into effect in mid-2016, meetings regarding Chapter 20 have been extremely transparent. As the author of the amendment, I have been to every meeting regarding Chapter 20 to ensure that the legislative intent has been met to the letter.

Granted, due to the federal classification of the drug, the process is complicated, and it has taken time to get growers and processors up and running. However, the rollout of Chapter 20 has always been outlined specifically and publicly. It only takes a Google search of “Act 16 of 2016 in Pennsylvania” to read the legislation.

In the meantime, patients are having to wait even longer to become part of clinical trials and research that could change their lives. It saddens me that this issue isn’t just about getting patients the medicine they need, but the almighty bottom line. I’m hopeful that the Commonwealth Court will see this case as exactly what it is – sour grapes.

Representative Kathy Watson
144th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
717.705.2094 /

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