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How anxiety came to dominate Pa.'s pot program

Plus, who is Michelle Henry, Pennsylvania’s acting attorney general?

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

February 2, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Medical marijuana, state control, harassment allegation, special elections, acting AG, no service, banned posters, and grant probes.

Anxiety disorders are now the leading reason Pennsylvanians get a medical marijuana card, a first-of-its-kind analysis of more than 1.1 million certification records obtained by Spotlight PA reveals.

The records — which the Department of Health attempted to keep secret by suing Spotlight PA in state court — offer the first comprehensive look at how a decision by former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration transformed Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, and, in the eyes of some, made it possible for basically anyone to get a medical marijuana card.

Read more about how Ed Mahon reported that story.

Also this week, Pennsylvania’s mortgage relief program will no longer work with the private company originally hired to run it. 

The move comes less than a week after a Spotlight PA investigation found that the program has been struggling to get the information it needs from mortgage companies, leaving homeowners grasping for answers and waiting months to get help.

Finally, a lobbyist for one of Pennsylvania’s most influential unions says a sitting state House lawmaker sexually harassed her, and she is urging the legislature to expand internal rules that govern who can bring misconduct complaints.


"No one is above the law."

—Andi Perez, a Harrisburg lobbyist, who says she was harassed by a sitting state lawmaker but was not able to make a complaint

» HOW SPECIAL ELECTIONS WORK: Join us Thursday, Feb. 9 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on the results of the Feb. 7 special elections, how they work, and why they matter. This event is the first in our “How Harrisburg Works” series. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Penn State’s Lion Ambassadors were accused of hazing. Why isn’t it on the hazing report?
» Why a Pa. school district decided to arm its officers with semi-automatic rifles
» Some Pa. courts are excluding probation officers from requirements under police misconduct law

Who is Michelle Henry, Pennsylvania’s acting attorney general?

Michelle Henry has prosecuted an attorney general, served as the deputy to an attorney general, and now she will be the attorney general — at least for the next two years.

When Democrat Josh Shapiro was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s new governor, he nominated his former deputy to fill his prior role as Pennsylvania’s chief law enforcement officer. 

Henry, a Republican, will serve out the remainder of Shapiro’s term. If she wants to keep the job beyond that, she’ll have to run in and win the 2024 election.

Here’s what you need to know about Henry:

She’s a veteran prosecutor. Unlike Shapiro, who never worked as a trial attorney, Henry spent the bulk of her career as a prosecutor for Bucks County.

After graduating with a law degree from Widener University in 1994, Henry joined the county district attorney’s office and went on to lead the unit investigating the physical and sexual abuse of children.

In 2008, Henry was selected to serve as Bucks County district attorney when her predecessor became a judge. She finished the term but did not run for office to keep the position, instead returning to the courtroom to prosecute cases.

She was part of the team that prosecuted Kathleen Kane. In 2015, Bucks County loaned Henry to neighboring Montgomery County, where she was part of a team that tried and ultimately convicted former Attorney General Kathleen Kane of perjury and other corruption-related charges.

Henry delivered opening arguments to the jury, which found Kane guilty of using her position to leak information about political opponents and then lying about it. Kane stepped down from her role as attorney general and spent eight months in prison.

Pennsylvanians elected Shapiro to fill the vacancy, and he appointed Henry to be his deputy in the state office. At the time, Shapiro called Henry “a prosecutor’s prosecutor,” a characterization her other colleagues echoed over the years.

“In a very pleasant and courteous way, she just disembowels people,” said David Heckler, former Bucks County district attorney, in a 2017 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think that’s one of the reasons Kathleen Kane didn’t take the stand: because she knew she would have to face Michelle Henry.”

Her goals for her new role are unclear. Time will tell whether Henry continues Shapiro’s focus on consumer protections. Spotlight PA asked Henry’s office for comment about her priorities, but did not hear back by deadline.

In accepting the position from her former boss, Henry said in a statement that “Public service is what drives the dedicated employees of this office to work hard and stand up for the kids, consumers, and victims of crime when they need a fighter on their side. As Attorney General, I will be dedicated to making sure this work continues nonstop and that this office will always have Pennsylvanian’s backs.” Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaSPECIAL DATE: Three consequential special elections in Allegheny County will take place next Tuesday, Feb. 7. WESA has guides to the candidates in state House Districts 3234, and 35 — each is Dem-leaning. You can confirm your district here. And all registered voters in those districts can vote, as this isn't a primary. Mail ballots must be received by the county's election office no later than 8 p.m. on Feb. 7.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaNO SERVICE: A new study lists Pennsylvania utilities among those that shut off service to scores of customers for nonpayment while spending billions on stock buybacks, dividend payments to shareholders, and executive salaries, via The Guardian. FirstEnergy shut off power about 240,000 times across several states, including Pennsylvania, in 2022 for debts totaling about $25 million. Meanwhile, the company paid $2.3 billion in dividends. Find the full study here.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaBANNED POSTERS: A Central Bucks School District administrator has walked back a directive that saw posters with a quote from renowned Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel removed from display following a social media backlash. Librarian Matt Pecic said he was told the posters violated the district's new ban on "advocacy activities," a nebulous term that critics said would lead to censorship, via WHYY.

GRANT PROBES: A $392,000 anti-violence grant to a Philly youth boxing program has been suspended amid ongoing investigations, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. The paper says nearly $76,000 for the Guns Down Gloves Up program went to a former district police captain, who the grant application said would not be paid, and nine other department staffers. City employees aren't eligible for city grants.

POT PIVOT: A pair of state senators — Mike Regan (R., York) and Jim Brewster (D., Allegheny) — are proposing significant changes to Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program. Among the biggest: Their proposal would eliminate the list of 23 qualifying conditions and allow a patient's doctor — meaning any doctor authorized to prescribe controlled substances — to determine cannabis eligibility


» APElection-denying lawmakers hold key election oversight roles

» CAPITAL-STARHouse GOP still seeking impeachment trial of Philly DA

» PENNLIVEBorough fires manager for ‘serious’ financial discrepancies

» WITF: DeFoor responds to school district audit criticism

» WJAC: Environmentalists question crypto-mining proposal

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

ODD ONE OUT (Case No. 186)Which English word is the odd one out and why: Stun, Ton, Evil, Letter, Mood, Bad, Strap, Snap, and Straw?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: A fire. (Find last week's clue here.) 
Congrats to Alyssa R., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., Joe S., Judy A., Geoff M., Peter S., Annette I., Alberta V., Rebecca D., Robert K., James D., Steve S., Irene T., Joel S., Tish M., Ken H., Donna D., Terry E., Johnny C., and Fred O.
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