HARRISBURG — Even as state officials rolled out the names of 12 companies awarded licenses to grow medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, they kept key details about the selection process behind a cloud of secrecy.
Health Department officials on Tuesday would not provide any information about the people who effectively decided who received the coveted and lucrative licenses. They said the smokescreen was necessary because they do not want lobbyists and others with a stake in the process to attempt to influence the decision-makers. Shielding the names of those involved in evaluating the applications, they argued, is the only surefire way to prevent that from happening.
But the decision was controversial, leading some critics to question whether the public could truly assess whether the selection process was fair and devoid of politics.
April Hutcheson, the Health Department's press secretary, defended the process, saying that while department regulations mandated that the decision-makers remain anonymous, the criteria for judging the applicants — for example, how they would comply with environmental and safety considerations — were publicly available.
Hutcheson did say that everyone who served on the committee that evaluated and scored applications was a state employee, drawn from various departments to "score" applicants in specific areas in which they have expertise.
"You'll see the scores," Hutcheson said. "The scoring rubric was included in the plan. There were no letters of support that were considered in this process. It truly was based on the best plan … and the highest scores."
The Health Department initially did not release the names of the principals behind the dozens of companies that applied for one of the licenses to grow medical marijuana, saying that information would be made public late next month.
But by late afternoon, it reversed course and published on its website the applications of at least the 12 companies that were awarded licenses Tuesday.