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Pa. hides data after backing pot as addiction aid

Plus, East Cocalico Township official charged in U.S. Capitol siege.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 16, 2021
Open questions, rural shootings, shift change, official insurrection, Unhappy Valley, PSERS money, and a big stage for little league. It's Monday, PA Posters.
FLASH CHALLENGE: If we raise $5,000 in support of Spotlight PA's essential investigative journalism by Wednesday, a generous local couple will match every single contribution and we'll unlock another $5,000. Don't miss this chance to double your gift and support our work »
Years after Pennsylvania became one of the first states to approve medical marijuana as opioid addiction treatment, the approach remains controversial and the number of people using it here is a closely guarded secret.

Spotlight PA asked the Department of Health how many of the state's roughly 550,000 registered medical marijuana patients are using cannabis to treat opioid use disorder.

The state refused to say, claiming doing so could amount to a third-degree misdemeanor, even though the director of the state's Office of Medical Marijuana released the same information for patients treating anxiety in 2019.

Spotlight PA is appealing the decision, which speaks to a pattern of withholding information about a booming medical marijuana program with more than $120 million a month in sales earlier this year.

THE CONTEXT: The science is still out on whether cannabis is an effective or safe option for those treating opioid addiction. 

Some patients swear by its benefits, while some medical professionals warn it could give patients false hope — or actively harm them.

Complicating the situation is the ongoing conflict between the state and federal governments. While Pennsylvania endorses cannabis for treating opioid use disorder, the federal government has discouraged it.

In at least one case, as Spotlight PA reported in June, the state's failure to clarify federal guidance had serious consequences: A Bucks County man was wrongly denied addiction treatment funding because of his medical marijuana card and soon after died of an overdose.
A generous local couple committed to ensuring Spotlight PA can continue and grow its vital investigative reporting in Pennsylvania has challenged us to raise $5,000 by Wednesday. If we do, every gift will be DOUBLED.

Answer the call and show how much you value Spotlight PA's work now.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that you, our loyal readers, will step up and contribute to journalism that holds the powerful to account and gets results. Put another way, without your support, we cease to exist.

If you value our vital investigative journalism, take advantage of this limited time offer to have your gift DOUBLED.

"It's a total free-for-all. That is a race that we just cannot afford to f--- up."

—An unnamed Democratic operative on the party's sprawling primary for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat, rated the most likely to flip
VACCINE UPDATE: Federal agents have already seized thousands of fake vaccine cards this year, worrying officials and prompting Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., NY) to urge a crackdown. To get a real vaccine card, use the federal government's online vaccine finder tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CLIMBING COVID: Join us Wednesday, Aug. 25 at noon via Zoom for a free Q&A on what we know about rising COVID-19 cases and the state's vaccine distribution efforts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Harrisburg's Broad Street Market sign before it was further damaged by last week's thunderstorms. Thanks for sharing, @yatsko. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FULL FORCE: A look at police shootings in rural America — "urban killings' little-publicized counterparts" — by The Marshall Project found state troopers in Pennsylvania and other states are responsible for many of the deaths. In Pennsylvania, citizen groups are already set to probe State Police encounters that end in violence, per WITF.

HOME REPAIR: The U.S. Senate is weighing a bill to update federal policies and oversight of nursing homes after the pandemic revealed significant flaws. The Democrat-led proposal offers homes more federal money in exchange for reforms. Gov. Tom Wolf's separate push to raise staffing requirements in facilities statewide is already facing pushback.

SIEGE CASE: The chairman of the East Cocalico Township Recreation Board, Edward McAlanis, is facing federal charges after he was seen on video entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, LancasterOnline reports. More than 600 people have been charged in the Capitol riot. NPR made a database of every known case.

SHOT CALL: Penn State University won't require vaccines in the fall as Republicans threaten to cut funding to state-aligned universities that do, the Capital-Star reports. In a first-person piece for The Atlantic, PSU Professor Paul M. Kellermann takes issue with the massive school's "patchwork" response and possible motives for not doing more.

SAFE BETS: A fund backed by billionaire Trump donor and newly accused foreign agent Tom Barrack was among those presented to, and ultimately passed over by, the PSERS board. Still, The Inquirer reports, a fierce debate about the investment strategy for the public school employee pension fund — Pennsylvania's largest — continues.
PLAY BALL: Montgomery County's Upper Providence Little League team is headed to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Games start Thursday and will be carried on ESPN with young broadcasters and no one in the stands for a second straight year, per WNEP.

GREEN LIGHT: Speaking of baseball ... A judge says the Phillies can keep using their Phillie Phanatic mascot amid a copyright dispute with the Muppet designer who created the original, Reuters reports. The judge says the current Phanatic is a spinoff design and fair to use.

FLY OVER: The Pennsylvania Game Commission says it's safe to feed birds and put out birdbaths again after a mysterious illness caused dozens of deaths. Officials say reports of sick birds have decreased in recent weeks. A cause for the deaths still hasn't been identified, KDKA-TV reports.

WRONG WAY: SEPTA officials were trying to figure out how someone managed to drive onto underground trolley tracks before getting stuck there early Saturday. A spokesperson told WHYY the car probably entered where above-ground lines dip below the surface. No one was hurt.

LATER GATOR: West Mifflin's runaway alligator has been caught days after it became the latest Pittsburgh-area reptile to go on the lam, giving a good scare to the owner of a potbellied pig named Molly
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Friday's answer: Paradise

Congrats to our weekly winner: Susan N.

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Patricia M., Michelle T., Jay H., Elaine C., Craig E., Karen W., Jessica K., Fred O., William M., George S., Judith D., Mike B., David W., Wendy A., Alan V., Don H., Diane P., Daniel M., Debra K., James B., Carol D., Jill A., Ron P., Dennis M., Becky C., Bob R., Kevin H., Johnny C., Kevin M., and Patricia R.
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