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Medical Marijuana News Channel

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Del. Dan Morhaim faces ethics probe inquiry over dual medical marijuana roles

State Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, stands near flags at Stevenson University's Owings Mills campus. (Steve Ruark/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Maryland Del. Dan K. Morhaim helped shape the rules on medical marijuana and had direct access to its regulators even while he was involved with a company seeking licenses to grow, process and sell the drug, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

Among other things, Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) pushed the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to encourage localities to welcome prospective marijuana businesses and asked regulators to reconsider their cap on the number of businesses licensed to process medical marijuana.

His dual roles — lawmaker-advocate and medical consultant to a prospective business — are the subject of a legislative ethics probe, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

A company called Doctor’s Orders recruited Morhaim as the licensing process was getting underway.

Morhaim, a physician who has been a delegate for 21 years, said that in fall 2015, before the panel started accepting applications, he notified Hannah Byron — then the commission’s executive director — of his work with a cannabis company. Byron, who resigned her post in January, says she also expected a formal notification to commissioners, which never came.

Before The Post reported Morhaim’s role in Doctor’s Orders in July, the commission’s chairman, vice chairman and new executive director said through a spokeswoman that they were unaware of it. All names were redacted from application materials reviewed by commissioners.

[Morhaim says he regrets not disclosing marijuana business ties]

Morhaim did not include the information in public-disclosure forms required of lawmakers. Nor did he reveal it during legislative debates in early 2016, when he pushed for bills affecting who could recommend medical marijuana or when testifying and offering regulatory advice at meetings of the cannabis commission.

Morhaim said that he consulted with the General Assembly’s ethics adviser before taking the job with Doctor’s Orders and that he has disclosed everything he believes he was required to disclose.

Staff members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics are conducting a preliminary review concerning Morhaim ahead of an Oct. 19 meeting, at which lawmakers will vote on whether to authorize a full investigation, according to the two individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The co-chairs of the committee declined to comment.

Morhaim, who said he will fully cooperate with the committee, added that he “followed all ethics rules and regulations.” He told the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board that he received “a modest paycheck” at the beginning of his association with Doctor’s Orders but was not a paid employee at that time. He has repeatedly said he has no ownership interest in the company.

Although lawmakers are allowed to vote on bills broadly affecting industries in which they work, a full ethics probe could examine whether Morhaim violated an ethics provision that bars officials from using “the prestige of office . . . for that official’s or employee’s private gain or that of another.”

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), another lawmaker who played a key role in the legalization of medical marijuana, called Morhaim’s dual roles “unethical and immoral.”

“If this is okay, then where do we draw the line as legislators?” Glenn asked.

The commission’s emails, obtained through a public-records request, show that Morhaim had an open line to marijuana regulators, who favored his advice.

“Without your dedication and commitment, we wouldn’t be so close to an operational medical cannabis program,” Paul Davies, the commission’s chairman, wrote on Sept. 5, 2015. “We all look forward to working closely with you through anticipated cultural, legislative and regulatory changes to develop the best best medical cannabis program in The United States.”

And they did work closely together.

In July 2015, in an email summarizing a meeting with commissioners, Morhaim pushed for a letter to local governments encouraging them to welcome prospective marijuana businesses just as they would any other legal enterprise. He also offered to carry legislation on the commission’s behalf if it didn’t want to sponsor a particular bill, as government agencies sometimes do.

In May, while applications for licenses were being evaluated, Morhaim called the commission’s executive director to ask regulators to reconsider a decision to cap the number of businesses allowed to process medical marijuana, according to the email. The director, Patrick Jameson, responded by saying that the change would not be permanent and said Morhaim’s views would be shared with other commissioners and be conveyed to an upcoming work group of commissioners.

At one point, Morhaim sent Davies, the commission chair, an email introduction to a doctor who had researched the effects of cannabis on treating seizures. In a follow-up email, that doctor told Davies that he was a medical consultant to a company vying for cannabis licenses, “in the interest of disclosure and transparency.”

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by WASHINGTONPOST
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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