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Report calls for reprimand of Md. Del. Morhaim

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Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County (File photo)

ANNAPOLIS — Del. Dan Morhaim will face a reprimand from his colleagues in the House of Delegates on Friday.

A Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics Report delivered to legislators late Thursday did not find any legal violations by the Baltimore County Democrat. But the report concludes Morhaim exercised poor judgment in working as a consultant for a company applying for a medical marijuana license and testifying before the state Medical Cannabis Commission as an expert legislator on marijuana issues, according to the 22-page report obtained by The Daily Record.

In a three-page letter to the House of Delegates released Thursday afternoon by Morhaim, the delegate apologized for damaging the reputation of the legislature but maintained he did nothing wrong.

“While I consistently maintained — and do today — that I did nothing wrong and complied with all laws, that was not enough,” Morhaim wrote in the three-page letter. “The harsh fact is that being technically right is not enough.”

Morhaim went on to call the ethics review a “deeply painful time in my public life” and blamed the review on a September Washington Post story he called “erroneous” and subsequently the subject of a correction.

“But other media picked up the erroneous report,” Morhaim wrote. “The damage was done.”

“No one ever complained to the Ethics Committee,” Morhaim wrote. “Instead, I voluntarily reported the facts in a letter to the committee last summer. I also publicly announced I would refrain from legislative involvement in any medical cannabis issues. And I have.”

“I acted only in the public interest to get medical cannabis to patients as quickly as possible,” Morhaim wrote. “I also never acted with the intent to benefit myself or Doctors Orders, the medical cannabis company for whom I consulted.”

The reprimand would be the first such action in the House since 2013 when Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, was reprimanded for introducing legislation that could have personally benefited him.

In 2012, Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, accepted a censure from the Senate after being found not guilty of bribery and corruption charges related to $245,000 in payments he received from Shoppers Food Warehouse over a five-year period.  Currie apologized to the Senate and was stripped of his role as chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Both McConkey and Currie continue to serve in the House and Senate, respectively.

From a technical standpoint, there is little difference between a formal reprimand, such as the one recommended for Morhaim, and a censure.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan chastised the legislature for a report she said tolerates unethical behavior and sweeps it under the rug.

“It is outrageous and beyond disappointing that this secretive legislative committee has officially decided to tolerate the clearly unethical and disgraceful behavior of this delegate,” said Amelia Chassé.  “Sweeping these problems under the rug undermines public trust in our institutions of government and is an incredible disservice to the people of this state. Egregious violations like this are exactly why Governor Hogan has introduced sweeping ethics reform proposals and exactly why they need to be approved immediately. The governor promised to clean up the mess in Annapolis and prevent a culture of corruption from taking hold and it is time for all members of the legislature to join him in this fight.”

The committee recommended that the House adopt “a resolution of reprimand expressing the House of Delegate’s disapproval of Delegate Morhaim’s actions” and request that Morhaim “make a public apology to the members of the House of Delegates  to acknowledge and express regret for his conduct and the disrepute and dishonor he has brought to the Maryland General Assembly.”

The committee “concluded that Delegate Morhaim’s actions were improper because his actions were contrary to the principles of ethical standards of the Maryland Public Ethics Law,” according to the report.

The committee, in its report, found Morhaim used his position to advocate for changes in the method of awarding processor licenses that could have benefited his client, Doctors Orders, and himself.

However, the committee found insufficient evidence to support a finding that he intentionally used his public position as a delegate “to obtain the private gain for himself or his employer” and did not violate ethics law.

Morhaim, a 23-year veteran of the legislature and a physician, has been a leading proponent of medical marijuana for more than a decade.

By May of 2015, he was garnering interest from a number of companies interested in medical cannabis licenses. Soon after, Morhaim sought the advice of the legislature’s ethics counsel.

At the time, Morhaim said:

  • He would be acting as a physician and not a legislator;
  • His activities would include educating doctors and other medical professionals on research into medical cannabis and it use;
  • He might review research into medical cannabis;
  • He did not propose to represent clients before state or local government entities; and
  • His name might be listed as a medical consultant but his legislative position would not be referenced.

Based on those statements, the ethics counsel in 2015 advised Morhaim that the law did not bar him from consulting but that he should seek additional advice after formalizing any consulting contract, according to the report.

The report notes that Morhaim did not disclose at that time that he had already been in contact with the state’s medical cannabis commission.

Morhaim emailed ethics counsel after meeting with Doctors Orders on June 3 regarding his potential employment with the company saying, “This is standard stuff, and basically it says that I can apply my medical skills but not represent clients before government entities.”

The report notes that Morhaim was “to be paid a fixed fee, which the joint committee finds substantial, for his work in Maryland and two other states and with the promise of additional substantial compensation” if Doctors Orders obtained licenses in Maryland. More compensation was promised if the company obtained licenses in other states.

The committee did not disclose how much Morhaim was paid.

In July, Morhaim sought advice on completing two disclosure forms but never informed the legislative ethics counsel that he had been hired and paid by Doctors Orders and that he had already appeared before the state medical cannabis commission as a state delegate and asked for regulatory changes. He also did not identify the name of his employer — a practice that is consistent with standard advice provided by ethics counsel, according to the report.

On another form, Morhaim listed income from a company called Whitebridge Associates, an LLC he set up on the advice of his personal lawyer for the purposes of receiving payments and processing expenses from Doctors Orders.

The report notes that the Deadra W. Daly, the legislative ethics counsel, told the committee that she was under the impression Morhaim would not begin his work until the company received a license and that the language he used on his disclosure forms was sufficient.

Daly, who was not identified in the report by name but by her position, said that by October Morhaim was asking her if biographical references to him in the applications made by Doctors Orders could contain references to his legislative position.

Daly advised that Morhaim should not be involved in applications in his capacity as a legislator. She later told the ethics committee that had she known Morhaim was engaged in communications with or testimony before the medical cannabis commission “she would have advised him to stop because his actions could appear to or potentially violate the Maryland Public Ethics Law, particularly the use of his prestige of officer or public position for private gain,” according to the report.

In August, Morhaim arranged to meet with Hannah Byron, then the executive director of the medical cannabis commission, at a Baltimore County coffee shop near where they both live. Morhaim told the committee that he disclosed his employment with Doctors Orders. Byron, according to the report, told the committee she only recalled Morhaim saying he was ‘thinking about” working for the company.

Byron, who was not named but only identified by her position, told the committee she did not communicate Morhaim’s conversation with her because “the affiliation was not formalized and she ‘did not want to start a rumor.” She also told the committee that she never believed the relationship was formalized because he continued to communicate with the commission in his role as a delegate, according to the committee report.

In 2016, the committee found that Morhaim, in his role as a subcommittee chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, continued to work on medical cannabis laws and sponsored one bill.

News reports of Morhaim’s activities on behalf of Doctors Orders put the delegate in the public spotlight in 2016. In January of this year, the House Democratic leadership stripped him of his role as chairman of the Health and Government Operations Subcommittee on Government Operations, which handled medical cannabis legislation. He was reassigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

It wasn’t until February 22, 2017, that Morhaim filed disclosure forms recusing himself from voting on any medical cannabis-related bills. The disclosure came one day after he testified before the ethics committee.

During that testimony, he restated that he “did not act with any intent to use the prestige of his office or public position for personal financial gain,” according to the report.

Morhaim did, however, offer an apology and “expressed deep regret that his actions may have tarnished the public perception of the legislature.” He further vowed to recuse himself from any legislation related to medical cannabis.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Morhaim missed the House’s morning session Thursday but was seen entering the State House in the late afternoon with his wife. The pair met with Speaker Michael E. Busch in Busch’s office.

Reporters who were waiting outside the Speaker’s office were told to leave the hallway. Morhaim did not speak with reporters and left through a tunnel connecting the State House to a legislative office building.

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