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Cannabis data concealed, bigger bills, and Pa. 'abortion deserts'

Plus, new guv poll has Mastriano with double-digit lead.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 10, 2022
Cannabis question, primary polling, voter assistance, access gaps, utility prices, ADA compliance, and a courtside catnap. It's Tuesday.
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Nearly a year after Spotlight PA first asked the Wolf administration for information on the number of Pennsylvanians using medical marijuana to treat opioid use disorder, a panel of Commonwealth Court judges is set to weigh arguments in a related open-records case this month

Spotlight PA requested information about how many patients were approved for each of the state's 23 qualifying medical marijuana conditions. (No personal patient information was requested, only aggregate data.) 

The goal is to better understand the impact of the Wolf administration's unusual and controversial decision to endorse cannabis as a treatment option for opioid use disorder — a decision with unintended and far-reaching consequences, as Spotlight PA investigations detailed.

An agency that settles public records disputes involving the Wolf administration ordered the Department of Health to release the records last year, but the DOH refused and appealed to Commonwealth Court.

THE CONTEXT: The Wolf administration argues that the state's medical marijuana law has confidentiality rules and clear limits on what information can be released, while Spotlight PA argues that the medical marijuana law exempts individual patient records from disclosure — not aggregate data.

A hearing before a panel of judges is scheduled for 1 p.m. on May 17 in Pittsburgh. It will be livestreamed by Commonwealth Court. After the court issues its decision, which could take several months, either side could petition the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, asking for permission to appeal. 

Pennsylvania's endorsement of cannabis as a treatment option for opioid use disorder came with little scientific backing and few consequences for the cannabis companies that wrongly claim such backing exists.

Confusion over conflicting federal and state cannabis policies also created widespread uncertainty for workers on the frontline of Pennsylvania's opioid epidemic, and wrongly prevented at least one person who later died of an overdose from accessing addiction treatment.


"By copying [the Butler County Republican Committee's] name, the public and potentially political candidates could be confused, which would promote deceit and would result in material damage to [the committee]."

An excerpt from a Butler County Republican Committee lawsuit that wants to bar a nonprofit connected to a local elected official from using the same name to raise funds and endorse candidates; a hearing is set for today
» A complete guide to the May 17 primary, including how to vote, find your polling place, understand mail-in ballots, and more

» How to make sure your mail ballot is counted in the primary

» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» Big donations to GOP guv hopefuls: Who gave and how much?

» See how much cash Josh Shapiro has raised in the governor's race

» More election coverage

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.

Me checking out some Pittsburgh deer (and vice versa) on a recent walk. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
NEW POLLING: State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) has a double-digit lead in the GOP race for governor, according to a new Trafalgar Group Poll. He's up 6.9 percentage points from where he was in the last Trafalgar poll in April and is 2.1 points up from where he was in the F&M College poll released last week. It's a scenario welcomed by the only Democrat running for the office. The Trafalgar poll also has Kathy Barnette surging in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary.

VOTER GUIDES: If you missed last week's Spotlight PA-hosted panel on Pennsylvania's candidates for governor, how they plan to lead, and how to spot election misinformation, video of the entire event is available here. The Democratic and Republican primaries will be held on May 17. Before you vote, check out Spotlight PA's explainer on casting your ballot, your options for doing so, and why this primary matters.

LIMITED ACCESS: The Inquirer reports that outside of Pennsylvania's two biggest cities, abortion access can be as limited as it is in Mississippi — home of the 15-week ban now poised to see Roe v. Wade overturned and legal abortion access decided by the states. The paper says more than 90% of abortions take place in eight of Pennsylvania's 67 counties; only 14 counties even have a provider.

STICKER SHOCK: The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is warning of sharp increases in home electricity costs that are set to take effect next month. Citing higher market prices for electricity caused by shifts in supply and demand for natural gas, the PUC says rates will rise in June by between 6% and 45%, depending on your provider. Capital-Star has a list of the hikes that are currently confirmed.

LEGAL DEFENSE: The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania says it's shielded by constitutional protections against a lawsuit alleging some of the county courts it oversees violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by barring people with opioid use disorder (an ADA-covered condition) from taking lifesaving and legal addiction treatments, CNHI reports. The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice after a written warning that was first reported by Spotlight PA.
TIME MACHINE: The final piece in the decades-long restoration of Pennsylvania's Capitol building is done and the governor's office has been transported back to the early 20th century. PennLive has a look at the finished product. "It's like night and day," Gov. Tom Wolf said.

IN MEMORIAM: A World War II veteran and longtime Pittsburgh deputy fire chief named Frederick Steinkirchner was one of the 10 oldest men in America when he died last month at the age of 109. The Post-Gazette has Steinkirchner's history-spanning obituary.

LION'S DEN: Penn State's Nittany Lion Shrine was splashed with red paint and had its ear broken off in an incident that coincided with several acts of campus vandalism over the weekend. TribLIVE reports it's not the first time the statue has been altered or defaced. Sue Paterno copped to one.

FAST LEARNER: Max Norfolk will graduate college and then high school. The Danville Area senior started taking Advanced College Experience courses in the eighth grade and is set to graduate from Bloomsburg University on Sunday and high school on June 3. "At one point, I realized, 'Oh, I can graduate both.' And I thought, 'Oh, that's kind of funny,'" he told WNEP. 

SOUND SLEEPER: The Philadelphia 76ers fan caught sleeping courtside at Sunday's playoff game gave his side of the story to KYW Newsradio, telling the station he was tired after traveling and just needed a quick nap. David Kelleher isn't just any fan either: He's the team's official auto provider.
Unscramble and send your answer to We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

This week's theme: We're talkin' baseball
Yesterday's answer: Knuckleball

Congrats to our daily winners: Kevin H., Wendy A., Barbara F., Ted W., Michelle T., Suzanne O., Don H., Susan D., Beth T., Brandie K., Susan N.-Z., Craig W., Bruce T., Marty M., Kimberly S., Bonnie R., Mike B., Kevin M., Elaine C., Judith D., Doris T., Myles M., Ann E., John F., Jodi R., Elizabeth W., Karen W., Kim C., Jenel E., Daniel M., David S., Sheila C., Mark O., Irene R., Jim A., John P., Steve D., Rachel K., Matt P., Douglas S., Fred O., John H., Janet C., James B., Dan W., Vicki U., Bruce B., Fred H., Bill S., John A., Steve H., Dianne K., Michael B., Ronnee G., Carol D., Jude M., Donna D., Pat B., Al M., Tish M., Jill K., and Johnny C.
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