In general, state transparency over policies of all sort is important to defeat corruption from infecting the system. Pennsylvania medical marijuana advocates are working hard to force the state to release the names of the individuals on the panel that determines who gets medical marijuana cultivator licenses. They are concerned that there may be conflicts of interest with some of the nominated panel members, while the state is saying they are protecting the identities of the members for their safety.
History has shown that corruption slowly makes its way into government and big business with out state transparency, the draw for money is just too strong for some people. Do you have concerns that there is corruption in the legal marijuana industry?
The Pennsylvania Department of Health so far has chosen to conceal the identities of members of the review panel that scored the first round of applications for medical marijuana grower/processor and dispensary permits earlier this year.
Good government advocates have argued that the information should be known so the public can determine whether any of the review panel members have any conflicts of interest. The review panel, counters the health department, needs to be protected from harassment, bribes and other forms of outside pressure.
The agency that administers the state Right-to-Know Law ordered the health department on Thursday to disclose the names, job titles and employers of the panel members to a PennLive.com reporter who requested the information in May.
It’s the first notable rejection of numerous actions the department took to obscure the medical marijuana permitting process.
For example, it also allowed companies to self-redact their permit applications. Though applicants were told to comply with the open records law, many redacted everything up to and including page numbers, citing trade secrets. The health department has since claimed it has no right to “waive a third party’s interest in protecting the(ir) records.”
The open records law places the burden of proof on public bodies to demonstrate why a record should be exempt from disclosure. Charles Rees Brown, OOR chief counsel, found that the health department failed to prove that the review panel information was confidential under department regulations.
The department also failed to prove that making such information public would threaten the personal security of review panel members, Rees Brown wrote in his final determination.
Within 30 days, the health department must either release the records or appeal the OOR’s final determination to the Commonwealth Court. April Hutcheson, department spokeswoman, said Friday that the department is “reviewing the decision and weighing our options.”
The state Department of Health received 280 applications for dispensary permits, including 45 applications in the northeast region. It received 170 applications for grower/processer permits, including 28 in the northeast region.
After the review panel vetted applicants, the department issued 12 grower/processor permits and 27 dispensary permits. Dispensaries are expected to open next year in Allentown and Bethlehem.
Many rejected permit applicants have appealed the review panel’s scoring of their applications.
In Rees Brown’s final determination Thursday, he notes that John Collins, director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana, supported keeping the identities secret.
Collins argued in an affidavit that if information regarding the review panel is made public, the information “may expose the review panel to a plethora of issues including, but not limited to, bribes, inducements, threats, harassment and undue influence.”
Collins’ argument, Rees Brown wrote, “is too conclusory and speculative to support the claimed exemption.”
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