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Pennsylvania Fights to Keep Medical Pot Board Secret

September 20, 2017

The Pennsylvania Department of Health continues to fight a ruling that it must identify the members of a panel that evaluated applications for state medical marijuana permits.

“Releasing this information puts these state employees at personal risk for harassment or worse, and the regulations specifically protect this information, as best practices from other states support insulating these state employees from outside influence or harassment,” the Health Department said in a statement Friday afternoon. “These highly vetted employees, all issue area experts, worked to ensure that the department chose the best companies to provide relief to children and others in need of this medicine.”

In August, the state Office of Open Records ruled the Health Department had to disclose the names of members of the panel after a PennLive reporter filed a Right-to-Know request seeking the names, job titles and departments of the individuals on the panel. DOH appealed that ruling Friday to Commonwealth Court.

This summer, the identities of 27 medical marijuana dispensaries and 12 growers across the state were released by the Health Department.

The state received 280 applications for dispensary permits and 177 applications for grower/processor permits.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law in April 2016.

Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor confirms they suffer from one of 17 qualified medical conditions. The list includes multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, seizure disorders, and cancer.

The program is expected to be up and running by mid-2018.

Potential growers had to pay a nonrefundable application fee of $10,000; pay a permit fee that cost $200,000 and was refundable if the permit was not granted; and show proof that they had $2 million in capital.

Dispensaries had to pay a nonrefundable $5,000 application fee; submit a $30,000 permit fee, which was refundable if the permit was not granted; and show proof of $150,000 in capital.

Last week, health department officials dismissed chatter about medical marijuana growers trying to sell licenses to other companies, noting that such an action has to be approved by the Pennsylvania Health Department. One company who was denied a license has sued, claiming the department showed favoritism and bias. The fact that the marijuana advisory board is secret lends credence to the claims, at least in the minds of those who have sued.

Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law requires transparency in such situations; by keeping the identity of the board members and their votes on the licensing secret, the health department is in violation of that law. The company behind the lawsuit has asked that all licenses be revoked and that the process begin all over, with the proper transparency this time.

Those who have fought to get marijuana legalized are alarmed at the lawsuit. They fear it will hinder the implementation of the program, which they say is vitally needed.

Note: The medical conditions mentioned in the article above are defined in the law as severe, debilitating, or life-threatening, and include the following:

  • Cancer
  • HIV/AIDS Positive
  • ALS
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Neuropathies
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • PTSD
  • Intractable seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Autism
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Damage to spinal cord nervous tissue with “objective indication of intractable spasticity”
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or in which opiate therapy or conventional intervention is not advised/ineffective

Medical marijuana can only be dispensed in certain forms. No plants or dry leaves qualify. Instead, it can be in pills, oils, gels/creams/ointments, liquid, tincture, or vaporization/nebulization.

In April of 2017, a proposal was introduced to form a registry of physicians, online, to make it easier for patients who qualify for medical marijuana to locate doctors who are able to recommend it. Doctors do not have to participate in the medical marijuana program, nor in the registry. If a doctor does decide to register, he or she must go through a four-hour long training course.


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