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Pennsylvania Department of Health v. Mahon (129 CD 2023)

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 129 CD 2023

Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Clients: Spotlight PA, Ed Mahon

Entry of Appearance Filed: Feb. 21, 2023

Background: In October 2022, Spotlight PA reporter Ed Mahon submitted a request to the Pennsylvania Department of Health under the state’s Right-to-Know Law seeking records related to medical marijuana certifications.

In the first part of his request, he asked for aggregate data showing the number of medical marijuana certifications issued by each approved practitioner in the state’s medical marijuana program. And in the second part of his request, he asked for additional information related to each of the medical marijuana certifications, including “the qualifying condition or conditions listed in support of the certification.” Neither part of Mahon’s request sought patient identification information.

The Department of Health denied Mahon’s request, claiming the records were protected from disclosure under a confidentiality provision of the state’s Medical Marijuana Act. Mahon appealed to Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records, which ultimately concluded that the Department of Health must release the aggregate number of medical marijuana certifications issued by each practitioner. However, the OOR held that the additional records requested in the second part of Mahon’s request could be withheld by the Department of Health.

The Department of Health appealed the OOR’s final determination to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, began representing Mahon and Spotlight PA in this matter in February 2023.

Related: Burke is also representing Mahon and Spotlight PA in a similar public records case against the Department of Health concerning medical marijuana certifications. And previously, Burke helped Mahon and Spotlight PA win a public records dispute with the Department of Health over data related to the state’s medical marijuana program. In that case, the Commonwealth Court ultimately ordered the health officials to disclose data that shows how many patients are certified to receive medical marijuana as a treatment for anxiety, cancer, opioid addiction, and other qualifying conditions under the state’s medical marijuana program. Using those records, Mahon published a data-driven investigation that helps Pennsylvanians better understand how patients are using the state’s relatively new medical marijuana program. Learn more about the investigation and the legal effort behind it in this RCFP interview with Mahon.


2023-01-13: Final determination of the Office of Open Records

2023-02-13: Department of Health petition for review

2023-02-21: Entry of appearance

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