Pennsylvania is expanding areas of its medical cannabis program to help advance research and decrease costs for patients.

The state’s Department of Health is making financial assistance more widely available for patients and has also announced a ninth clinical registrant in Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Research Program, according to an ABC 27 News report.

In June 2021, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation to make several changes to Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program, with most provisions taking effect immediately with Wolf’s signature.

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The law also required the Department of Health to provide additional assistance to medical cannabis patients and caregivers, according to ABC 27 News.

The department is now expanding Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program in three phases, the news outlet reported.

Phase 1 will eliminate annual fees for medical cannabis ID cards for eligible patients enrolled in the state’s existing financial hardship program.

Phase 2 will eliminate all background check fees for eligible caregivers, ABC 27 News reported, and Phase 3 will distribute a to-be-determined benefit amount per funding period for each patient in the financial hardship program.

Phases 1 and 2 have already been implemented, according to ABC 27 News, and Phase 3 is underway, with infrastructure and a support system under development.

“The department is pleased to be able to expand assistance to medical marijuana patients and caregivers who may be experiencing financial hardships,” Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter told the news outlet. “Patients deserve to have access to their medicine to treat medical conditions and cost should not be a barrier.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is also working to expand the state’s clinical research program, which allows 10 licensed cannabis grower/processors to become clinical registrants and contract with one of nine approved academic clinical research centers.

RELATED: Ethos Cannabis and Jefferson University Launch Their First Studies Under Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Research Program

The department recently announced a ninth clinical registrant, Story of PA CR, LLC, which has been approved to work with Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, ABC 27 News reported.

Story of PA will have a grower/processor license in the Southwest Region of the state and will initially operate two dispensaries, one in the Northeast Region and one in the Southeast Region, according to the news outlet.

“The department continues to grow and support clinical research opportunities for the medical marijuana program,” Klinepeter told ABC 27 News. “This research is essential to providing physicians with more evidence-based information to make clinical decisions for their patients. It is the cornerstone of our program and the key to our clinically based, patient-focused program for people suffering with approved serious medical conditions.”

Qualified patients with one of 23 medical conditions are eligible to enroll in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program. As of Feb. 24, there are more than 729,000 patients and caregivers, as well as more than 1,700 physicians, enrolled in the program, ABC 27 News reported.

There are currently 150 dispensaries and 33 grower/processors serving the market, according to the news outlet.