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Official denies blame for botched marijuana rule

Plus, Pa. man is ‘upper-tier’ Proud Boys member.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 14, 2022
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On defense, police gear, Proud Boys, rent checks, legal limits, spending spree, and 418 miles as the bat flies. It's Monday and Pi Day. Welcome.
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Pressed on Spotlight PA reporting that found Pennsylvania's Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs failed to clarify rules around addiction treatment and medical marijuana — an omission with serious consequences — the head of the agency continued to deny responsibility and shift blame.

The reporting found it took DDAP officials 17 months to clear up confusion that saw at least one person denied addiction treatment because of his status as a Pennsylvania medical marijuana cardholder. Not long after he was denied the help, 24-year-old Tyler Cordeiro fatally overdosed.

State Rep. John Lawrence (R., Chester) read an excerpt of the coverage during a March 3 budget hearing with DDAP Secretary Jennifer Smith, asking Smith to explain the delay in notifying county- and state-level providers that medical marijuana alone should not disqualify people seeking aid.

Smith said the department wasn't given permission to distribute the information and encouraged county drug and alcohol offices to reach out to the federal government themselves. Both claims are in dispute.

Lawrence called Smith's explanation "totally inadequate."

THE CONTEXT: A series of investigative stories by Spotlight PA last year revealed that state officials failed to clarify federal rules around addiction treatment funding and medical marijuana use, sowing widespread confusion among workers on the front lines of Pennsylvania's opioid epidemic.

A month after Spotlight PA's first investigation, the federal government changed its policy to make clear that federal money can fund addiction treatment and services for people who happen to use marijuana — the treatment just can't be marijuana itself.

Spotlight PA found no evidence that emails informing DDAP of the update included restrictions on sharing the information with other agencies. The Oregon Health Authority told its providers days after it was informed.

Tyler Cordeiro's mother, Susan Ousterman, called Smith's budget hearing responses "somewhat infuriating," adding, "You can't correct something if you don't acknowledge that there was a problem. And they still haven't acknowledged that anything was … done wrong."

"Suggesting this disaster is because children ignore opportunities allows us to place the blame for failure at their feet rather than the General Assembly's."

—Attorney Katrina Robson in closing arguments of Pennsylvania's landmark school-funding trial; a decision is months away and likely to be appealed
» FOR THE RECORD: Join us Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. ET via Zoom as our reporters and other experts discuss Pennsylvania's open records law, how it impacts Spotlight PA's coverage, and how you can use it, too. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A Lancaster County bird feeder, as captured by PA Poster Robert N. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
MILITARY-GRADE: Falls Township's police department in Bucks County is donating 52 ballistic vests, including 15 "military-grade" vests, to aid Ukraine's fight against Russia. Vice reports decades of Pentagon hand-me-downs have left U.S. departments fitted for war and often with budgets to match. While Ukraine spent $6 billion on its military in 2020, New York City spent almost twice that on its police force.

INSIDE SOURCE: A Carlisle man and suspected "upper-tier" member of the Proud Boys is being targeted by federal investigators seeking new clues about the far-right group's planning of the U.S. Capitol siege. LNP reports the man hasn't been publicly named but a search warrant for his home is tied to last week's Jan. 6-related arrest of the group's former leader, Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, on conspiracy charges.

CUT SHORT: Mercer County might return $2 million in federal rent-relief money, enough to fund another round of aid payments there, saying it doesn't have the administrative resources needed to keep the program going, the Sharon Herald reports. The pandemic-era funding was administered by counties, a system Spotlight PA reported last year had created "wildly uneven results" around the state.

MAP LIMITS: With GOP legislators unhappy about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's choice of congressional map, state Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill) is pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit the shelf life of court-ordered maps to a single election cycle. The measure is one in a wave of constitutional changes voters could be asked to decide. Spotlight PA makes tracking them easy.

NEW EARMARKS: Federal earmarks are back for the first time in a decade with new rules around disclosures of the lawmaker-made, community-targeted funding requests. Browse congressional asks here. Confirm your congressperson here. Requests by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) can be found under the "appropriations" tab here, while Casey's GOP counterpart, Pat Toomey, made none in protest.
RED FLAGS: "Facebook has a child predation problem," Pitt professor and Disinformation Lab researcher Lara Putnam writes in Wired. Putnam says while she kept reporting predatory groups to Facebook, the platform was likelier to recommend more of the groups than it was to take any down.

FARE FRAY: The Allegheny County Port Authority's employee vaccine mandate takes effect Tuesday, but with up to 500 employees still unvaccinated, service disruptions are possible, per WTAE. A "significant" number of staff called off work in protest of the rule over the weekend.

DO-GOODERS: The executive director of Philly's mosaicked Magic Gardens art space stepped up when a friend's sister needed a kidney. WHYY reports a sprawling "donation chain" followed, as did a policy change meant to help other Magic Gardens employees become donors themselves.

LONG JOURNEY: The Pennsylvania Game Commission recorded the longest known migration of the endangered Indiana bat in a single season, KDKA-TV reports. The journey started in the Keystone State and ended at a winter cave in Carter County, Kentucky, some 418 miles away.

JOB JAMS: Going back to office work? Former WHYY producer Jon Ehrens made an hours-long mix of mellow, nostalgic pop music piped through a dreadful-sounding speaker that will make it feel like you never left.
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: Math words
Friday's answer: Febrile

Congrats to our weekly winner: Dianne K.

Congrats to our daily winners: Bonnie R., Vicki U., Rebecca M., Don H., Becky C., Deb N., Susan D., Mike B., Irene R., Bruce B., Suzanne O., Susan N.-Z., Diane P., Patricia R., Craig E., Matt P., Sherri A., Rick G., Elaine C., Doris T., Judith D., Ann E., George S., William S., Carol D., David W., Craig W., Pat B., John W., Jackie S., John W., Susan R., Sandy S., Sue D., Suzanne S., Daniel M., Bill S., Mary Jo J., Elizabeth W., John B., and Lex M.
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