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Marijuana data disputed, counting of undated ballots ordered, and an oil and gas rule gets blocked

Plus, no Pa. police gave crime data to FBI for 2021.

A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 22, 2022
Cannabis court, ballot count, no reports, security staff, election money, emissions check, and a Dutch doppelgänger. It's Monday.
A panel of Commonwealth Court judges has ordered the Wolf administration to reveal how many medical marijuana patients have received approval from a doctor to use cannabis for opioid addiction treatment, a significant legal decision brought on by Spotlight PA's push for the information.

Spotlight PA sought the data to better understand the impact of the Department of Health's unusual and controversial decision to endorse cannabis as a treatment option for opioid use disorder.

The judges on Friday dismissed the department's underlying claims that releasing the data would jeopardize patient confidentially and risk criminal charges for DOH employees.  

Read the full report on Friday's ruling here.

THE CONTEXT: Spotlight PA requested the data while reporting on the unintended consequences that followed the Wolf administration's decision to endorse cannabis as a treatment option for opioid use disorder.

The newsroom specifically requested aggregate data — information that would not identify individual patients. Paula Knudsen Burke, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who is representing Spotlight PA for free, called Friday's ruling an important one for transparency.

In February, Spotlight PA conducted a first-of-its-kind review of more than 60 websites that revealed some cannabis companies made statements about medical marijuana as an addiction aid that multiple health policy and treatment experts called misleading, incorrect, or possibly dangerous.

Spotlight PA has also reported on the current lack of scientific support for cannabis as a tool for fighting opioid use disorder and the anecdotal support from patients who say it's worked wonders for them.

"When I go to my doctor's office, there is no room for the speaker of the House."

—Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) renewing calls for abortion access protections in a key election year
Rays of morning sun in Monroeville, via Doug W. Send us your photos or art, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
BALLOT CALL: Berks, Fayette, and Lancaster Counties have been ordered to count undated mail ballots from May's primary. The counties initially refused, stalling the certification of statewide races and prompting a lawsuit from Gov. Tom Wolf's administration. That lawsuit led to Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer on Friday ordering the three counties to tally the ballots, via the AP.

CRIME STATS: The Marshall Project found 0% of Pennsylvania police departments submitted crime stats to the FBI's data collection program for 2021. Forty-eight states and Washington, D.C. had higher reporting rates. Among the potential consequences of low reporting: informational gaps on crime trends — the kind being exploited by politicians in midterm election races in Pennsylvania and beyond.

GUARD DETAIL: GOP nominee for governor Doug Mastriano's security detail includes at least one person — Scott Nagle — with ties to a militia and several with ties to an evangelical church where advancing biblical principles in government is a stated goal, LNP (paywall) reports. Nagle was listed as the Lancaster County chapter leader for the far-right Oath Keepers militia as recently as January, the outlet adds.

PASSED UP: Despite concerns about the strings attached, almost all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties applied for their share of $45 million in state grants to run upcoming elections. Officials in Montour County, one of four holdouts, told The Daily Item a requirement that ballot counts be finished on election night was a red flag. "We are not convinced we can do that and have an accurate count," one official said.

IN THE AIR: Pennsylvania has until Dec. 16 to write new emission rules for oil and gas operations into state law in order to qualify for $500 million in federal highway funding, Capital & Main reports. But an attempt to win over critics of the change in Harrisburg by splitting the proposal along conventional and unconventional industry lines didn't work. Environmentalists say it also defeats the purpose.

LOOK-ALIKE: If you see Dutch filmmaker Bart Smeets around Pittsburgh next month, he's looking for his doppelgänger — a person seen in the crowd at a Pitt football game six years ago, the Post-Gazette (paywall) reports. 

BARISTA JAKE: Jacob McFarland is well known in Norristown. The 21-year-old, who has autism, opened a coffee shop that's helping young people with disabilities enter the workforce. Now he's getting national attention.

TRASH TO TREASURE: The StoopingPHL Instagram account shares photos of cool or useful stuff that's been set out as trash across Philly. The goal? That someone will "grab it and give it a new home," WHYY reports. 

COFFEE TALK: We've talked before about baristas unionizing in cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Billy Penn introduces Local 80, a new Philly union focused specifically on organizing coffee shop floors.

UPDATE TIME: If you're reading this newsletter on an Apple device, a quick heads up: The company says most iPhones, iPads, and Macs have serious security vulnerabilities and should be updated immediately.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme for an extra chance at swag.
Friday's answer: Sophomoric

Congrats to our weekly winner: Jody A.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Michelle T., Chuck M., Connie K., Mark O., Don H., Susan D., Alana G., Jill K., Judith D., Starr B., David S., Kimberly D., Hugh M., Steve D., Nancy S., Ed R., Craig W., Kim C., Tom O., Susan N.-Z., Ana G., Jude M., Daniel M., James B., Myles M., Elaine C., Lynne E., David W., Bill S., Karen W., George S., Eugene M., Mike B., and Steve H. 

Last week's theme: School or Back to School

Congrats to Stephen G. for getting it right and winning Spotlight PA swag.
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