Pa. must reveal names of secret marijuana panelists

In a decision that could change the way future medical marijuana permits are awarded in Pennsylvania, the state has ordered the Pa. Department of Health to reveal the identities of the panelists who determined the winners to grow and distribute cannabis products.

The Pa. Department of Health in June awarded 12 permits to grow and process marijuana and 27 permits to distribute the medicines in a process that many of the unsuccessful applicants criticized as unnecessarily opaque.

A secret panel, comprised of about a dozen Pennsylvania state employees, reviewed and scored hundreds of lengthy applications for the potentially lucrative business permits, following a model originally set by New Jersey. Other states have followed different selection processes. Ohio, for example, hired an Atlanta-based consultant to determine its winners, according to Cleveland.com.

The state medical marijuana law required the panelists to be kept anonymous to avoid political meddling and any appearance of conflict of interest.

The Office of Open Records (OOR) came to its decision on Thursday in response to a PennLive reporter who had filed a formal request in May for the panelists’ names, job titles, and departments.

The Department of Health has 30-days to turn over the information or file an appeal, said Erik Arneson, the executive director for the OOR.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said officials were reviewing the decision and considering their options.

Health had argued against releasing the names. Arnesen said, because under the state statute, the identities of the panelists were required to remain confidential.

“Their second argument was that by revealing their identities, it could be a security issue; that they could be subject to bribes and threats,” Arnesen said.

“On that second point, they didn’t present any evidence.”