HARRISBURG — The general public might quickly know for the primary time what number of sufferers use medical marijuana to deal with opioid use dysfunction in Pennsylvania, one of many few states to particularly endorse that therapy choice.
Highlight PA sought that info whereas reporting on Tyler Cordeiro, a Bucks County man who was wrongly denied dependancy therapy funding due to his medical marijuana card. Cordeiro died of an overdose just a few weeks later.
After the Division of Well being refused to disclose the quantity — saying that the state’s medical marijuana legislation “protects affected person and caregiver info” — the information group appealed to the impartial company that settles public data disputes involving the Wolf administration.
The Workplace of Open Information this month dominated in favor of Highlight PA and ordered the well being division to reveal what number of sufferers are licensed for hashish below every of the state’s 23 qualifying circumstances.
In making the choice, the workplace rejected an argument from the Wolf administration that releasing the numbers would violate the confidentiality guidelines of the state’s 2016 medical marijuana legislation. At one level, attorneys for the Division of Well being prompt that disclosing the data might result in a prison cost towards an worker.
But, the director of the Workplace of Medical Marijuana, John J. Collins, had beforehand launched comparable info, together with the variety of folks licensed to make use of marijuana due to an nervousness prognosis, and by no means confronted any recognized penalties. In that occasion, a spokesperson for the division later stated the director responded “appropriately” to a query from a board member.
Whereas Highlight PA’s enchantment was pending, the Workplace of Open Information dominated in favor of one other information group, CNHI, that requested info on what number of medical marijuana sufferers reside in every of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
“Discovering the requested aggregated knowledge to be confidential would result in an absurd consequence,” Kyle Applegate, chief counsel for the workplace, wrote in a July 15 ultimate order.
The info revealed that greater than 50,000 folks registered for medical marijuana reside in certainly one of 29 rural counties and not using a medical marijuana dispensary.
Regardless of the CNHI ruling, the Division of Well being continued to argue towards disclosing mixture knowledge in Highlight PA’s open data case. In a July 30 temporary, the division cited a 2019 Commonwealth Courtroom choice wherein the courtroom cited the confidentiality guidelines of the Crime Victims Act.
In that case, the courtroom dominated towards an individual in search of knowledge for folks denied sufferer compensation advantages. The Workplace of Open Information rejected that comparability, writing that the Crime Victims Act has stricter confidentiality necessities than the state’s medical marijuana legislation.
Highlight PA additionally requested written insurance policies or procedures describing how the company tracks the usage of its medical marijuana program. The well being division claimed it didn’t have such info, however the Workplace of Open Information discovered the company did not show that.
The Division of Well being has till Oct. 4 to offer the information breakdown and written insurance policies requested by Highlight PA, or enchantment the choice to Commonwealth Courtroom. If the company doesn’t do both, Highlight PA might search a courtroom order to implement the workplace’s ultimate dedication.
Greater than 633,000 sufferers and caregivers are registered in Pennsylvania’s medical hashish program, in response to info offered by the Division of Well being on the August assembly of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.
In 2018, Pennsylvania’s former well being secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, added opioid use dysfunction to its listing of “critical medical circumstances” that makes somebody eligible for the state’s medical marijuana program. Underneath the state pointers, hashish is meant for use when different remedies have failed or aren’t advisable, or to complement different remedies. Pennsylvania’s method to hashish and opioid use dysfunction stays an outlier.
Two of Pennsylvania’s neighbors — New Jersey and New York, which additionally permitted opioid use dysfunction as a qualifying situation for his or her medical hashish applications — supplied numbers to Highlight PA with out an open data request.
In New Jersey, greater than 2,200 of the state’s roughly 115,000 registered hashish sufferers have been enrolled due to opioid use dysfunction in July, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Hashish Regulatory Fee stated.
In New York, greater than 2,100 sufferers identified with opioid use dysfunction grew to become licensed in its medical marijuana program from July 2018 to July 2021, in response to a spokesperson for the New York State Division of Well being.