The Maryland House of Delegates on Friday condemned one of its own, Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), for using his legislative perch to influence medical marijuana regulators without publicly disclosing that he was a paid consultant to a prospective dispensary.
The 138-to-0 vote for a resolution of reprimand follows an investigation by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which concluded that Morhaim’s actions were “improper” and violated the principles — if not the letter — of state ethics law.
“It is our duty to uphold the integrity of this body by rejecting improper influences,” Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), co-chair of the ethics committee, said on the House floor Friday.
She chided Morhaim for failing to tell the General Assembly’s ethics adviser that he would appear before the state medical marijuana commission to advocate specific policies and for allowing Doctor’s Orders, the company that hired him, to cite his legislative position in its dispensary application.
Morhaim frowned and closed his eyes as Jones read from the ethics committee’s report. He was excused from voting and did not address the chamber. Dels. Trent M. Kittleman (R-Howard) and Meagan C. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) were absent.
The ethics inquiry followed a July Washington Post report that revealed Morhaim’s involvement as a consultant and prospective medical director for Doctor’s Orders, and subsequent reporting on how the longtime champion for medical cannabis lobbied for policies while affiliated with an industry player.
The investigation found no violations of disclosure laws or evidence that Morhaim intentionally tried to use his public office for financial benefit. But it concluded that the 22-year lawmaker improperly used his influence to have an open line to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and pushed policies that could have benefited Doctor’s Orders.
The Democratic-majority legislature stopped short of formally censuring Morhaim, which drew criticism from Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
“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 Friday. Of the legislature, he said: “It seems like they always want to sweep things under the rug and not take real action.”
In a letter to his colleagues, Morhaim apologized for tarnishing the image of the legislature but maintained he did nothing wrong. “Indeed, it was not enough to technically comply with the law,” the letter says. “I failed to appreciate public perception of these issues.”
The lawmaker, who is also an emergency room physician, has said he will stop working on medical marijuana legislation and communicating with cannabis regulators and will end his relationship with Doctor’s Orders, according to the ethics committee report and the letter.
After Friday’s vote, Morhaim told reporters that the months leading up to the reprimand were a “circus,” and he said the only lawbreakers were the people who leaked information about the ethics probe, which is supposed to be confidential until findings are released. He said the focus on his dual roles distracted from pressing issues before the legislature.
“I did things, as I stated in my letter, that reflected badly on the House,” Morhaim said. “But they were not violations of the law.”
Hogan is pushing for stricter ethics rules that would bar lawmakers from participating in legislation affecting their outside employers and strip the General Assembly’s power to police its members’ adherence to ethics policies.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who has introduced his own legislation to strengthen ethics and disclosure laws, dismissed Hogan’s call to expel Morhaim as unfounded. He defended the committee’s investigation and said Morhaim should have acted differently.
“There’s a broad range of responsibility for someone who takes the oath of office and comes to Annapolis, and I think there are certain lines people should know not to cross,” Busch told reporters.
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), who like Morhaim has been a legislative champion for medical marijuana, told the Baltimore Sun on Thursday that Morhaim’s punishment was “a slap on the wrist.” She declined to comment further Friday.
The last lawmaker publicly reprimanded by the legislature was Del. Tony McConkey (R-Anne Arundel), in 2013. He had pushed to add language to a bill that would have allowed him to reactivate his Maryland real estate license while he still owed fines for preying on homeowners in foreclosure.
In 2012, Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) was censured for failing to disclose outside consulting work.
Josh Hicks contributed to this report.