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Lawmaker reprimanded over marijuana contract

The state House of Delegates voted Friday to reprimand Baltimore County Del. Dan Morhaim for failing to disclose his relationship with an applicant for a medical marijuana license. Morhaim helped craft the state’s medical marijuana laws and licensing framework while working as a consultant for a company applying for a license.

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics ruled that Morhaim broke the spirit of the state’s ethics laws, but did nothing technically illegal.

The committee recommended the House of Delegates reprimand the Baltimore County Democrat, which it did Friday by a unanimous vote, from which Morhaim was excused. The committee also asked Morhaim to issue a public apology, which he did Thursday in a letter to the full House.

Speaking with reporters after Friday’s House session, Morhaim maintained that he did not break any laws.

“I apologized, as I described in my letter, because I did things, as I stated in my letter, that reflected badly on the House,” he said. “But they were not violations of the law, which is what the ethics report says. I broke no rule, violated no laws.”

The committee’s decision followed a months-long investigation into Morhaim’s role as both a member of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and a paid consultant with Doctors Orders, a company applying for licenses to grow and process medical marijuana.

Baltimore County Del. Adrienne Jones, a Democrat who serves as acting co-chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee, said Morhaim advocated three times for the state commission to change the way it awarded licenses for processing medical marijuana.

“His plan would have permitted any entity that was awarded a grower license and that also applied for a processor license to be automatically granted the processor license, unless the entity’s processor license application was grossly deficient,” she said.

The state had capped the number of grower licenses at 15, meaning this change would benefit up to 15 companies. And it was likely Doctors Orders would be one of the 15.

The company had applied for both types of licenses, to grow and process the drug. Jones said Morhaim knew Doctors Orders’ application to grow medical marijuana was likely to succeed because the company already operated in other states.

“While advocating for his plan, Del. Morhaim was working under a consulting contract that promised substantial annual compensation for a position that would only exist if his client got the licenses it applied for in Maryland,” Jones said.

The committee said Morhaim’s best move would have been to remove himself from decisions about applications while he was working for an applicant. Alternatively, he could have been more upfront with the commission.

Morhaim has recused himself from voting on any medical marijuana-related legislation and has agreed not to communicate with the Medical Cannabis Commission.

At a press conference Friday morning, Gov. Larry Hogan said Morhaim deserves more severe punishment for his actions.

“There’s no question in my mind that what was done was completely unethical, and in my opinion somebody who has such complete disregard for the ethics laws of Maryland should be removed from office, rather than slapped on the wrist,” Hogan said.

But House Speaker Michael Busch said the governor doesn’t have enough of the facts to offer an informed opinion.

“The governor can have his opinion. Other people can have their opinion,” Busch said. “But the process we go through is a very thorough process, and I think in the final analysis, the Joint Committee, which represented both houses in it, made their determination on the facts that were in front of them.”

Hogan said the incident demonstrates the need for the ethics reform legislation his administration introduced this year.

One bill would shift many of the powers of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, whose members are all legislators, to the State Ethics Commission, which has a majority of members appointed by the governor. A Senate committee considered the bill Friday afternoon.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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