About the time the Maryland legislature’s longtime champion for medical cannabis joined a company looking to dispense the drug, he urged state regulators to remove a restriction on the sale of edible marijuana products.
Two months later, Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) sought feedback from regulators for his plans to introduce legislation allowing dentists, podiatrists and certain nurse practitioners to join physicians in recommending cannabis to patients.
Such interactions, detailed in emails obtained by The Washington Post, shed light on the contact the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission had with Morhaim, whose legislative colleagues are scheduled to meet Oct. 19 to decide whether to investigate the lawmaker’s dual roles.
One key issue could be whether Morhaim violated a prohibition on state officials using the prestige of office for private gain, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
Morhaim has vowed complete cooperation and maintains that he followed all rules and did nothing wrong.
He emphasizes that he has no ownership interest in Doctor’s Orders and says he properly filled out legislative disclosure forms in July 2015, the month he became involved with the company.
On those forms, which are required whenever there is a significant change in a lawmaker’s finances, Morhaim wrote that he might work as a consultant in the field of medical cannabis and had received income through a consulting firm. Maryland requires lawmakers to disclose sources of income but does not require those who work as consultants or lawyers to reveal their clients.
He has a letter from the ethics adviser to the General Assembly saying that he did not need to disclose his clients and clearing him to carry legislation expanding the types of medical professionals who can recommend medical marijuana.
Morhaim’s advocacy on medical marijuana dates back years, long before his business involvement. He says he is motivated by a desire to make the drug available to thousands of sick patients across the state.
“As a legislator, I have not been exposed to any confidential or proprietary information,” Morhaim said this week. “Legislators frequently work in industries where they have developed initial expertise in a subject matter in the legislature.”
But Morhaim’s co-sponsor on the medical cannabis legislation has called for him to be investigated, arguing that lawmakers should not be able to cash in on industries they helped create.
“I would never even consider [joining a cannabis company], even if it was okay,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore). “It would lessen my integrity, and people would look at me differently: ‘Am I doing this for personal gain, or am I really doing this because I believe in the patient ?’ ”
In recent days, Morhaim has offered new details about his position with Doctor’s Orders, which was first reported by The Post in July. He said that he received modest compensation early on, for helping to write the company’s medical policies and assemble a medical advisory board, but that he hasn’t worked for the company or received payment while its application for a dispensary license is pending.
Doctor’s Orders chief executive Glenn Weinberg declined to comment on what work Morhaim has done for the company. In its dispensary applications, the company describes the veteran lawmaker and emergency room physician as a “highly sought-after” clinical director who would work closely with the chief executive in developing strategies and procedures.
The company received preliminary licenses in August to grow and process medical cannabis. The commission is still considering dispensary applications and has not said when they will be awarded.
Morhaim said that before applications for licenses were submitted in November, he told the commission’s then-executive director, Hannah Byron, that he was involved with a cannabis company. Names and other identification were redacted from the applications, which were reviewed by a team of evaluators and by the appointed commissioners, so that each application would be judged on its merits.
Byron, who left the commission in January, said she never told the commissioners that Morhaim was affiliated with one of the applicants because she was under the impression that he had not yet formally joined the company.
“Delegate Morhaim informed me that he intended to pursue an affiliation with an applicant and that he was going through the internal and external ethics review,” Byron said. “I anticipated a formal notification would be sent to the full Commission once those reviews were completed with detailed information.”
The Post requested emails sent by the lawmaker to key commission members and staff, as well as emails from those individuals that either went to Morhaim or mentioned him or Doctor’s Orders by name. The commission released some emails last week, and a batch of more than 1,000 messages this week.
The emails do not show Morhaim directly pushing for any changes that appear to be tailored specifically to benefit Doctor’s Orders. They demonstrate the clout and influence the lawmaker carried with regulators both before and after he joined the company and suggest that his frequent involvement frustrated some commissioners.
Among the items of note:
●In March 2015, the commission and the Maryland Board of Physicians were feuding over whether doctors who work in marijuana dispensaries could also recommend the drug to patients in clinical settings. Morhaim helped edit the commission director’s response to the board’s concerns.
●In May 2015, Morhaim urged the commission to require regulators who leave their posts to wait an extended period before being able to work for medical marijuana companies. Such a rule, he said, would prevent an obvious conflict of interest.
●He made suggestions to the governor’s office about who should be appointed to the commission. At times, he weighed in on mundane matters, including the email sign-offs from the agency’s communications and what was posted on its website.
Morhaim said his access to and influence with regulators did not give him a leg up. “I have no ‘secret’ or ‘inside’ knowledge about this legislation or regulations,” he told The Post. “It is very public and transparent and is there for all to see.”
At least one commissioner complained about Morhaim working with Byron and other commissioners to ease strict rules.
“Morhaim is legislating out many of the regulations we worked hard to put into place for patient safety,” Chris Charles wrote to colleagues on March 16, 2015, as the industry’s regulations were being shaped and months before Morhaim became involved in Doctor’s Orders. “He is also influencing the Executive Committee to take out of the regs things he doesn’t like.”
Paul Davies, the commission’s chairman, said that to his knowledge, Morhaim is no longer in close contact with regulators.
“It would be unacceptable for any commissioner to have ex parte discussions with anyone associated with a potential licensee, particularly discussions that could provide unfair guidance or an advantage,” he said in a statement. “Safeguarding the objectivity of the Commission’s regulation of this industry remains a priority.”