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Pennsylvania is taking research applications from cannabis firms. Again.

The state approved eight hospitals last year to conduct research. The companies will grow marijuana, sell it at retail outlets, and provide data to the health systems for analysis. It's the second time the state has required the companies to apply.

FILE-- Newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in pots at a marijuana cultivation facility.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
FILE-- Newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in pots at a marijuana cultivation facility. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)Read moreSteven Senne / AP

Pennsylvania has released applications for cannabis companies that want to participate in the state’s much-vaunted medical marijuana research program.

Each winner will be granted a permit to grow cannabis and a permit to open six retail dispensaries. Each applicant must have a preexisting research contract with one of eight state-approved health systems.

Applications are due before April 11.

In a previous round, the state rejected every application on various technical grounds. The applications are seen by many as a formality. Five medical centers in the Philadelphia region are believed to have signed contracts with the cannabis companies months, if not years, ago.

The University of Pennsylvania has paired with Curaleaf; Drexel University with Acreage; Jefferson Health with Solterra, a.k.a. Main Line Investment Partners; Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine with Cansortium; and Temple University with Laurel Harvest Labs.

The research program was created to gain support from Republican lawmakers who called for more research before the state’s medical marijuana law was passed.

The health systems will design research studies for the cannabis companies. The researchers will not be allowed to work with the plant or its products, because federal law outlaws marijuana in any form. Handling the drug would jeopardize federal grants and funds flowing from Medicare and Medicaid. That also means that patients will be self-reporting data, making any research unlikely to be considered by typical peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Each company will collect patient data and share it with the health system research team. The companies will pay for any research expenses. Many of Pennsylvania’s currently operating commercial cannabis companies say they are already sharing patient data with research institutions.