A General Assembly ethics panel has recommended Del. Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County receive an official reprimand for working for a planned pot business while also helping design the framework for the state’s medical marijuana program.
Following a review over the past few months, the panel made up of five state delegates and five senators concluded Morhaim “used his position as a delegate to advocate to the [Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission] that it change its method of awarding processor licenses to a method that could have resulted in a direct private gain to his client, Doctors Orders, and to himself.”
Morhaim, a licensed physician with an office in Owings Mills, came under fire last summer after The Washington Post revealed he had accepted a paid gig to advise the planned medical marijuana company Doctors Order LLC as a medical consultant. Morhaim defended his actions, saying he did nothing wrong by accepting a paid position with the company while also serving in public office and voting on medical marijuana-related legislation and influencing regulatory changes. Doctors Orders, which will operate in Southeast Baltimore, was later awarded licenses to grow and dispense medical weed.
The ethics panel launched an investigation into Morhaim’s paid work in October 2016 and independent counsel for the investigation in December.
The panel notably hasn’t concluded Morhaim violated any laws, but said his actions “were contrary to the principles of ethical standards of the Maryland Public Ethics Law,” according to a copy of the report shared by WBAL.
Its members acknowledged the delegate filed all of the necessary paperwork to work both jobs, including forms for earned income from Doctors Orders and a “Disclaimer of Apparent or Presumed Conflict of Interest,” though they did note they have “concerns about the wording” of the latter.
In the end, the ethics panel recommended House Speaker Michael Busch submit a resolution for a reprimand for Morhaim and suggested he issue an apology to colleagues.
Morhaim promptly did so, with a full three-page letter (also shared by WBAL). While noting that he voluntarily submitted all necessary disclosure documents to legislators and that the panel found he didn’t act in a way that would purposefully benefit himself, he admitted some fault.
“Medical cannabis licensing was – and is – a very public issue. I was a very visible legislative figure as a result of a 15-year effort to bring medical cannabis to patients,” he wrote. “I did not recognize the public perception that might be associated by my speaking before the Cannabis Commission on regulatory issues, even if they were detrimental to my client’s interests. For this, I apologize.”
The House of Delegates is set to vote today on the decision to reprimand Morhaim – an official act that will serve as a mark on his public record, but won’t carry any legal consequences.
Gov. Larry Hogan criticized Morhaim earlier this week after declaring a state of emergency for the state’s opioid and heroin crisis. Morhaim has sponsored a bill that would allow the state to authorize “safe consumption spaces” for drug users, which Hogan called “absolutely insane” and inflammatorily suggested was an attempt by Morhaim to become licensed to sell Heroin.
The governor’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the ethics panel’s recommendation.
Regardless of any larger punishment, the controversy should stand out as a reminder to Morhaim’s colleagues to be careful about their associations outside of the legislature, particularly when they’re being paid.
“As a part-time citizen legislature, the members must be ever vigilant that they do not cross the line between their personal interest and the interests of the citizens who they are elected to serve,” the panel wrote.
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