The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Orders the Health Department to Provide Information on Medical Marijuana

The Wolf administration has been forced to disclose the number of medical marijuana patients who have gotten a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat opioid addiction.

The Department of Health has sought to keep that information a secret for more than a year.

Spotlight PA looked for such information to better comprehend the effects of the organization’s uncommon and contentious choice to recommend cannabis as a form of therapy for opioid use disorder.

In a court judgment released Friday, the justices rejected several departmental arguments. According to senior judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, the agency broadly construed secrecy laws. Its argument was “undeveloped” and “misses the point,” to use your words.

The department’s claim that disclosing the material would result in charges against staff members being brought against them was also rejected by the courts.

According to Paula Knudsen Burke, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press pro bono defending Spotlight PA, “This ruling is an important step toward public access to aggregate data that will help Pennsylvanians better understand how the state’s medical marijuana program is operating.”

Also read: Incidence Of Pediatric Cannabis Exposure Among Children And Teenagers Aged 0 To 19 Years Before And After Medical Marijuana Legalization In Massachusetts

According to Melissa Melewsky, media legal counsel with the Pennsylvania News Media Association, of which Spotlight PA is a member, the court’s ruling could be helpful to other members of the public who make information requests.

Melewsky told Spotlight PA, “It’s a critical case. And I believe it’s terrific news for all Pennsylvanians.

When Spotlight PA asked for aggregate information on the state’s medicinal marijuana program in June 2021, particularly the number of certificates for each of the 23 qualifying ailments listed in the program, the lawsuit got underway.

Thousands of people can get a medical marijuana card and purchase marijuana from dispensaries thanks to those doctoral recommendations. Epilepsy, severe chronic pain, and anxiety disorders are qualifying conditions.

The news outlet reported on the misunderstanding and unforeseen effects that followed the Wolf administration’s decision to support cannabis as a therapy option for opioid use disorder when Spotlight PA sought the material. The newsroom asked for aggregate data or data that could not be used to identify particular patients.

Also read: In Court: What’s New On The Medical Marijuana Front For Workers’ Compensation

Even though it has previously made identical information accessible to the public, the Department of Health rejected the request. The state Office of Open Records, an impartial body that resolves public records issues involving the Wolf administration, was then appealed to by Spotlight PA.

The Department of Health was required to divulge the documents by the agency in September. Still, the Department of Health will not provide the details. It filed a lawsuit against Spotlight PA in Commonwealth Court, and three judges heard the case’s arguments in May.

According to the state’s medical marijuana statute, certain information is secret, but not as much as the agency stated in Friday’s judgment, according to Leadbetter. Because only patient information is shielded, so the requested data is susceptible to disclosure.

Commonwealth Court decided in the Department of Health’s favor on a different issue in the same lawsuit. The court overruled the Office of Open Records’ finding that the agency had failed to establish the nonexistence of specific written rules and procedures.

It’s unclear whether the Department of Health will make the information available. The agency might file a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to get authorization to appeal. By the time set by Spotlight Pennsylvania on Friday afternoon, the department’s press office had not responded to a request for comment.

When medicinal marijuana use became legal in Pennsylvania in 2016, legislators granted the Department of Health broad authority to manage the initiative and ensure it serves patients around the state. But this year, several investigative reports from Spotlight PA exposed shortcomings in that supervision.

According to the investigation “Unproven, Unsafe,” which was released in February and was based on a ground breaking review of more than 60 websites, some cannabis companies made claims on their websites that were deemed false, misleading, or even potentially harmful by some health policy and addiction treatment experts.

Unusual advertising restrictions and inconsistent Department of Health enforcement have benefited largely unregulated businesses that stand to make millions of dollars annually courting Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients, according to a follow-up investigation published in May called “The Ad Block.”

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