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Pa. cannabis companies mislead with opioid claims

Plus, a congressional redistricting case update.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 21, 2022

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Marijuana messaging, map arguments, counteroffer, big cleanup, test scores, unconventional boost, and more Pennsylvania train trips. It's Monday.
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In a state with one of the highest fatal overdose rates in the country, Pennsylvania medical marijuana companies have made misleading and potentially dangerous claims about cannabis' ability to treat addiction. 

The most alarming examples found in a Spotlight PA review involve claims that cannabis can be a "viable substitute" for buprenorphine, one of three drugs approved by the federal government to treat opioid use disorder.

Chelsea L. Shover, an epidemiologist and assistant professor-in-residence at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, called this particular claim "really dangerous" and "the worst-case scenario of this advertising."

In all, Spotlight PA's first-of-its-kind investigation found cherry-picked data, misrepresented studies, and what experts, like Shover, say is a problematic pattern of offering false hope to medically vulnerable people. 

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania was a pioneer in adding opioid use disorder to its list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions in 2018, but the science around cannabis as an addiction treatment is still very much in dispute

And while there are rules around the kinds of messages medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania can receive, Spotlight PA found the state's Department of Health rarely uses its related enforcement powers. 

The Wolf administration says opioid use disorder should only be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in certain circumstances, but sections of at least 13 websites reviewed by Spotlight PA left out those caveats.

See how Spotlight PA reported this story here, and read more coverage of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program here.
For all of February, we at Spotlight PA are giving you the chance to share a message of love, gratitude, or appreciation with the entire state. 

Here's how it works: Make a donation of $25 or more to Spotlight PA using this special link, put your shoutout in the "I am contributing because..." box, and we’ll include it in a special section of our PA Post newsletter. 
Show some love to a Pennsylvania business, a person, an animal, an animal that reminds you of a person, or your favorite reporters (👋). Make someone feel good, brighten a day, and support Spotlight PA at the same time.

"The trust is gone. It's going to be very hard to repair that relationship and to regain that trust. I think ... you have to start with just cleaning house."

—Delaware County Councilor Richard Womack on racist remarks by members of a Darby Township fire department that have since gone public
» IMMUNE RESPONSE: An estimated 73% of America is now immune to the omicron variant, but experts warn against a false sense of security, especially for those who remain unvaccinated, the AP reports.

» TRUSTED SOURCE: UPenn experts say nurses can play a role in stemming the tide of misinformation about COVID-19 by offering corrections as well as breakdowns of accurate-but-complicated science.

» ANTIVIRAL SUPPLY: The federal government paid billions to roll out anti-COVID pills from Pfizer, Merck, and others. But the Wall Street Journal reports pharmacies want more funds for their pivotal role in the distribution plan.

» ENDEMIC PLAN: California has adopted the nation's first endemic COVID-19 policy, one that "emphasizes prevention and quick reaction to outbreaks over mandated masking and business shutdowns," per NPR.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Two swans taking in the Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philly. Thanks for sharing, @noraodendahlSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
MAP HEARING: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court is set to pick the state's next congressional map and spent hours on Friday hearing from lawyers for Gov. Tom Wolf, top lawmakers, and voters as each advocated for the version of the map they want the court to choose. Spotlight PA and Votebeat break down the competing proposals, all of which appear to meet four traditional redistricting criteria.

CARBON CAPTURE: An 11th-hour counteroffer from GOP lawmakers who have fought Wolf's power plant carbon-fee proposal would put millions of dollars into job retraining programs for energy workers and millions more into carbon capture technologies. But Wolf's office says the latter presents a false choice between emission reductions and other climate crisis solutions, via Capital-Star.

KINGSESSING AID: A water-main break in Philly's Kingsessing neighborhood has left homes damaged and without heat in February, The Inquirer reports. Wolf is being urged to declare a disaster for the area. In the meantime, those affected should call a water department hotline at 215-685-6300 or request help via local lawmakers here. Those interested in helping can offer support here.

MONEY METRIC: House Republican leaders want to see Pennsylvania's delayed standardized test scores immediately, saying the results will weigh into decisions related to the next state budget and more, per PennLive. As Spotlight PA previously reported, the connection between spending on schools and student performance is the subject of an intense — and freshly piqued — political debate.

BID BOOST: A subpoena for state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) — a Trump ally and 2020 election denier — from the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol could actually benefit Mastriano's ongoing campaign for governor, The Caucus reports. Mastriano isn't the only Pennsylvanian the committee wants to speak with. Capital-Star has an updated list.
ON TRACK: Money from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be used to deliver long-sought service additions on Amtrak's Pennsylvanian line, TribLIVE reports. "We are finally ready to actually move forward," Gov. Tom Wolf said in a Pittsburgh news conference on Friday. 

TUITION CUT: In-state, full-time undergrads at IUP would pay up to 20% less in tuition beginning this fall under a new proposal. The most expensive school in Pennsylvania's state-run university system, IUP's enrollment struggles have only worsened during the pandemic.

PEPSI PAST: The Post-Gazette reports a 90s-era, Star Wars-themed Pepsi machine remains a draw for nostalgia-craving tourists who come to marvel at the still-operating relic located outside a Pittsburgh fire station. 

ART THERAPY: Steve Wollett of Stewartstown spiraled after losing his dog, his wife, and his business in rapid succession. But a group of friends sparked an idea that led him back from the brink and into the movies, per YDR.

'HOODIE HOO': When Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter, the senior citizens of Schuylkill County say "Hoodie Hoo" on Hoodie Hoo Day, an annual ritual designed to usher Old Man Winter out and spring in.
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.

*This week's theme: Literary devices

Friday's answer: Tormentor

Congrats to our weekly winner: Bonnie R.

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Don H., Doris T., Karen W., Kim C., Susan N.-Z., Susan D., James B., Ted W., Elaine C., Kimberly S., Dianne K., David W., Bill S., Pat B., George S., Edward G., Ann E., Jennifer B., and Elizabeth W.
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