Why is Pa.'s medical marijuana program so secretive?

Why is Pa.’s medical marijuana program so secretive?

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Over and over again, in written statements, at news conferences and in press releases, the state Department of Health promised a "commitment to transparency" as it set about creating a new industry to supply medical marijuana. But when it comes to the most important issues surrounding Pennsylvania’s entrance into the $6.7 billion nationwide industry , that commitment has clear limits: It does not extend to the program’s gatekeepers nor to the private companies that will be growing and dispensing medicine. Last month, in response to an appeal by PennLive, the Office of Open Records ordered the department to disclose the names of panelists who scored medical marijuana permit applications. So far, the state hasn’t decided whether to appeal that decision to Commonwealth Court. "I tend to air on the side of transparency," said Erik Arneson, the office’s executive director. "I think the model of having the decision-makers known is better because I don’t think in this day and age it’s possible to keep that kind of information secret." State law included language barring applicants from obtaining the names of people reviewing applications but it doesn’t prohibit the release of that information to journalists and the general public. It also didn’t anticipate how the department would be doling out the permits: in two phases spread across many months or possibly years. The department refused to answer questions from the Office of Open Records that would have clarified whether, for example, the same panelists who scored the first phase would be called upon again for the second phase, or whether subsets of the panel judged different applications. Becky Dansky, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the way Pennsylvania handled the awarding of permits — which is fairly unique among the 29 states (plus D.C.) with legal cannabis in one […]

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