A Commonwealth Court judge in Harrisburg has issued a preliminary injunction that could force the state to revisit a portion of its medical marijuana clinical research initiative.

In her ruling, Judge Patricia McCullough agreed with arguments made by a group of 11 medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary permit holders, challenging how the program was being implemented.

The group said the program was unfairly allowing the eight state-approved academic clinical research centers — including Thomas Jefferson University, Drexel University, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine — to contract directly with an outside third party to operate a grow-and-process medical marijuana facility and up to six dispensaries.

By doing so, these groups would get a permit to cultivate or dispense medical marijuana while bypassing the rigorous application process that current permit holders underwent.

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In some instances, the petitioners said, centers were contracting with unsuccessful first-round permit applicants.

In her ruling, the judge agreed that the original 2016 medical marijuana law said these third parties, referred to as "clinical registrants," were supposed to be limited to conducting research.

Lawyer Judith Cassel, who represented the permit holders, said they were "thrilled" with the favorable ruling. She added that the injunction need not delay implementation of the clinical research centers' work, depending on how the state Department of Health decides to proceed.

"We feel that by DOH taking another look at the regulations, they will find that having clinical registrants exclusively do research protects the integrity of the research process," said Cassel.

In an emailed response, a state health department spokeswoman wrote, "The research program was rolled out in consultation with the sponsors of the original legislation and our approach was meant to ensure lower costs, more accessibility, and groundbreaking treatments.

"We will continue to pursue our nation-leading research component and we are evaluating our legal options. We remain committed to ensuring that Pennsylvanians with serious medical conditions have access to a high-quality, efficient and scientifically based medical marijuana program."