March 23 (UPI) -- Pennsylvania is looking to become the first state to authorize university-level research for medical marijuana use -- a concept that has long been at odds with federal law.
Officials outlined the approval process Thursday and said the state will soon begin accepting applications from medical schools to study the impact of medical marijuana use.
The state, which approved pot for medicinal purposes in 2006, will allow as many as eight institutions to conduct the research. One, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has already announced an interest.
Authorities said the schools that conduct the research must also partner with an entity to grow and distribute the drug to patients in the studies.
To date, no state has allowed public medical schools to perform pot research because the drug is listed by the federal government as a Schedule I substance, which it classifies as having no medical benefit. Other drugs in this category include heroin and other opioids.
Officials said the number of regulated pot growers will increase from 12 to 25, and 23 more dispensaries will be added. Because of a lack of supply, only nine dispensaries are currently providing medical marijuana.
Federal law bans most marijuana research, as well as medical-use pot. With public opinion favoring medical marijuana, federal officials do not enforce the ban in the 29 states that have legalized it.
About 25,000 Pennsylvania residents have started the process for buying medical marijuana. Roughly 9,000 have received certification from a doctor, 7,000 have a medical card and 6,700 have bought medical marijuana.
State officials said that 866 doctors have applied to become eligible to recommend medical marijuana to patients, and 473 are approved.