ANNAPOLIS — A leading voice on the legalized use of marijuana for medical purposes was formally and unanimously reprimanded by the House of Delegates Friday for improper actions related to his work as a consultant for a company seeking a license to grow and process cannabis in Maryland.
Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, sat silently as Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, stood a few feet away and read a synopsis of a report detailing the panel’s investigation.
That 22-page report, released late Thursday, concluded Morhaim exercised poor judgment in working as a consultant for Doctors Orders, a company seeking a medical marijuana license, and in testifying before the state Medical Cannabis Commission as an expert legislator on marijuana issues.
Morhaim, who sent a three-page letter to colleagues Thursday, did not offer any comments on the floor following the reading of the resolution reprimanding him.
After the 138-0 vote, a defiant Morhaim lashed out at the process, at the media and other legislators he said broke the law by leaking information on a confidential review conducted by the ethics committee.
“I accepted the committee’s decision in order to put this matter behind us,” said Morhaim, reading from a one-page prepared statement. “It is important to note that that the committee found I broke no laws or ethics rules, only the spirit of the law and that’s what I shared in the letter to my colleagues. In fact, the only law that was broken was by those who leaked the ethics committee confidential information last September. That was a clear violation of state law, not the spirit of the law.”
Morhaim called the ethics review “a distraction from the important issues facing Maryland citizens, like our decades-long substance abuse crisis, our failure to make medical cannabis available to thousands of citizens who are suffering needlessly. How was that program blocked for 15 years? That is a subject worthy of in-depth reporting far more significant than this circus.”
Morhaim did not offer an apology and told reporters that his public apology was contained in his letter to legislators.
“I apologized as I described in my letter because I did things as I stated in my letter that reflected badly on the House, but they were not violations of the law, which is what the ethics report says. I broke no rules. I broke no laws,” said Morhaim.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he stood by the work of the ethics committee and called it a fair process.
“The facts are the facts,” Busch said and added that the legislature was within its rights to discipline Morhaim for violating the spirit of the ethics rules if not for an outright violation.
“I think there is a broad range of responsibilities for someone who takes the oath of office and comes to Annapolis and I think there are certain lines people should know not to step across,” Busch said, adding that the ethics committee looked at the complaint against Morhaim “and found this one was more serious.”
The reprimand drew swift criticism from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has made ethics reform — including a bill that would bar lawmakers from representing businesses as Morhaim did — a key part of his legislative agenda.
The governor said Morhaim should have been expelled.
“There is no question in my mind that what was done was completely unethical,” Hogan told reporters Friday. “And in my opinion, someone who has such complete disregard for the ethics laws of Maryland should be removed from office rather than slapped on the wrist. It seems (the General Assembly) always wants to sweep things under the rug and not take action.”
Hogan also made references to a “culture of corruption” in Annapolis.
Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. both said the actions taken by the committee were the correct ones and “protect the integrity of the legislature.”
“The governor has no position in the Maryland General Assembly,” Busch said. “The governor can have his opinion and other people can have their opinion but the process we go through is a thorough process.”
Miller, speaking in the Senate, told members that the committee worked hard and its findings were correct.
“There can be no doubt what occurred once you get the report and no doubt that the findings were correct,” Miller said. “You might not like the outcome in terms of what the punishment was but you can’t doubt the findings were correct.”
The reprimand of Morhaim is the first in the House of Delegates since 2013 when Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, was reprimanded for introducing legislation that could have personally benefited him.
McConkey remains in the legislature.
In addition to the reprimand, Morhaim previously was stripped of his position as chair of a subcommittee of the Health and Government Operations Committee, which dealt with medical cannabis legislation. He was reassigned to the House Judiciary Committee before the start of the 2017 General Assembly session.