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Cannabis clause, Republican rifts, and gun reform

Plus, the GOP U.S. Senate recount is officially a go.

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 26, 2022
Ad blockers, recount time, gun law, 2A polling, Republican rifts, clerk case, marathon marriage, and 🌷 time is running out. Today is Thursday.
With millions of dollars at stake, the businesses that help people in Pennsylvania become licensed medical marijuana patients are able to buy radio ads, dominate Google searches, and even offer Groupons for their services. But if doctors do the same, they could face penalties.

The unusual rule and inconsistent enforcement have given an advantage to those largely unregulated certification businesses as Pennsylvania's years-old medical marijuana program continues to grow in size.

The program is overseen by Pennsylvania's Department of Health, which has no authority over certification companies but does have power over physicians who have been approved to certify patients themselves. 

For those doctors who run afoul of the advertising restrictions, the potential consequences are significant, Spotlight PA found. 

Some have been threatened with expulsion from the state's medical marijuana program, while Dr. MaryFrances Koester said the department insinuated that her medical license could be suspended or revoked if "prohibited marketing items" weren't removed from a website.

"I was shocked," Koester told Spotlight PA. "Quite frankly, I was scared. And I was angry because I didn't think I'd done anything wrong."

THE CONTEXT: When Pennsylvania lawmakers legalized medical cannabis in 2016, they struck an unusual deal: Physicians can approve patients for the program but they are banned from advertising that power.

Lawmakers feared advertising would encourage thousands of patients to flood the same doctor's office solely seeking a medical marijuana card, or motivate physicians to excessively approve patients for profit.

Advocates and participating physicians say enforcement of the rule has been uneven and that the playing field is skewed as a result of the restriction. They also say it's still unclear what exactly counts as an ad. 

At the same time, certification businesses — which connect patients with partner physicians without identifying those physicians by name, something that's much harder for an individual doctor or private practice to do — have flourished. But skeptics question the quality of the guidance those businesses provide, given the typical speed and scale of such operations.

Spotlight PA previously reported that two certification companies — Releaf Specialists and Compassionate Certification Centers — made statements on their websites about cannabis as a treatment for opioid use disorder that experts called misleading, incorrect, or possibly dangerous.

Both companies defended the language they used, but the research they provided didn't substantiate their claims.

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"... Any investment culture that is more focused on rebutting perceived 'critics' rather than welcoming the healthy dialogue and transparency that is vital to good governance does not serve the beneficiaries."

Former state treasurer and current PSERS board member Joe Torsella on newly released emails showing how the board of Pennsylvania's biggest pension fund tried to undercut his efforts to reform the $73B plan
A gorgeous volunteer columbine flower in Clearfield County, via Don H. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
RECOUNT ON: It's official: Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate primary is headed for a recount. Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman made the announcement Wednesday, with candidates David McCormick and Mehmet Oz separated by fewer than 1,000 votes. Politico reports counties must begin their recounts by June 1 and have them completed by June 7. Recount rules are dictated by state law.

BILL BLOCK: Pennsylvania House Democrats called for the GOP-controlled chamber to suspend the rules and consider an assault weapons ban on Wednesday, the move coming one day after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — the deadliest since Sandy Hook. The push failed 87-111. One Republican voted for the effort and one Democrat against it. Republican leaders said the underlying bill should go through a committee first, but it's already sat in one for more than a year.

GUN SAFETY: The most recent survey measuring Pennsylvanians' views on gun safety found 55% of respondents want federal gun laws to be "stronger," while 15% said they should be "less strong," and 27% said they should stay the same, per The Inquirer. Support for stronger gun laws was higher when the pollsters for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence asked about specific proposals. Example: 83% of those surveyed support background checks on all gun purchases

POST-PRIMARY: State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) was allowed back inside the Republican caucus' closed-door meetings on Monday, which he'd been kicked out of last year amid a rift with party leaders, the AP reports. Mastriano's return follows his convincing win in the GOP gubernatorial primary despite a last-ditch effort by party insiders to stop him. The AP adds that GOP leaders have also penalized two lawmakers who helped primary challengers unseat Republican incumbents.
TIME CHECKS: The Pennsylvania attorney general's office is investigating whether Washington County Clerk of Courts Brenda Davis manipulated time cards for her employees hundreds of times over the past year, allegedly adding a combined $12,690 to their pay stubs, via the Observer-Reporter. No charges had been brought against Davis or any of her employees as of Tuesday, the paper adds. It's unknown if any of them had spoken to investigators with the state attorney general's office.
NO CHANGE: Centre County's DA says it's unlikely there will be a new investigation into the death of Penn State sophomore Justine Gross, who fell 11 stories down a trash chute at her off-campus apartment last year. Police ruled out foul play, but Gross' family has doubts, per Centre Daily Times.

BIG GIFT: The largest donation from an individual in the history of the Harrisburg chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters is a $1.1 million contribution from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, The Burg reports.

CONEHEADS: Philadelphia's road blossoms are blooming again. Twitter user @SarahMackAttack shared these before-and-after photos of a wayward cone in (not on) a city street. It's not the first time it's happened either. 

DEMO TIME: The former Wholey building, an icon of Pittsburgh's Strip District, is coming down to make way for a new development. The Post-Gazette's Andrew Rush grabbed a stunning mid-demolition photo.

80 YEARS: Congrats to Pennsylvania's longest-married couple: Martha and Chester Pish of Pottstown. They've been married 80 years, have a son who's in his 70s, and got a shoutout from state lawmakers in Harrisburg. 
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: Onomatopoeia
Yesterday's answer: Rataplan

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Bonnie R., Elaine C., Susan D., Susan N.-Z., Don H., Doris T., David S., Dianne K., Alissa H., Bill S., Kimberly S., George S., Pat B., Kimberly D., and James B.
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