Maryland House Votes To Reprimand Lawmaker Over Ethics

BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland House of Delegates voted Friday to reprimand a lawmaker for using his position to advocate for changes in awarding licenses to medical marijuana producers that could have resulted in a benefit to a company that employed him.

The House voted 138-0 to reprimand Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who was a paid consultant for Doctors Orders, a company that is now a finalist to grow and process marijuana in Maryland.

The case prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to call for ethics reforms he is backing to “try to stop this growing culture of corruption” in Annapolis.

On three occasions last year, Morhaim advocated to the state’s medical marijuana commission that it change its method of awarding licenses to process marijuana, said Del. Adrienne Jones. His plan, she said, would have permitted any entity awarded a grower’s license that also applied for a processor license to be automatically granted a processor license, unless the application was grossly deficient.

“While advocating for this plan, Delegate Morhaim was working under a consulting contract that promised substantial annual compensation for a position that would only exist if his client got the licenses it applied for in Maryland,” Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat who is the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, said.

As a longtime advocate for medical marijuana, Morhaim had influence that other people did not, Jones said.

“He leveraged that influence by using his public position to advocate for a policy that he should have known could have resulted in gain for himself or his employer,” Jones said.

Morhaim, who is a doctor, said after the vote that it was important to note that the ethics committee found “I broke no laws or ethics rules, only the spirit of the law.”

Morhaim apologized Thursday in a letter to his colleagues for putting himself and the House in a negative light. He also criticized leaks to the media about the ethics review into him. He said the case has been a distraction from important issues facing Maryland, such as the state’s substance abuse crisis and long delays in making medical marijuana available to the sick.

“That is a subject worthy of in depth reporting far more significant than this circus,” Morhaim told reporters after the vote.

Hogan, a Republican, said earlier in the day that he was disappointed the ethics committee didn’t recommend Morhaim’s expulsion.

The governor pointed out that this year’s legislative session began under a cloud. It started with the indictment of a former aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh for alleged illegal campaign contributions, one day before he was scheduled to be sworn in to the House to represent Baltimore.

A day later, federal prosecutors announced that a former Prince George’s County lawmaker had pleaded guilty to bribery. Court records in that case indicated a sitting House member was a target in the ongoing probe. The next day, a Prince George’s County delegate abruptly resigned, an hour before the 90-day session began.

“If someone can get away with something as egregious as this and still be representing people in the legislature, then it just shows how far off track our system is, and it proves the need for us to pass tougher ethics laws so this kind of thing can never go on again and that we can clean up the mess in Annapolis and try to stop this growing culture of corruption,” Hogan said, referring to Morhaim.

House Speaker Michael Busch, however, said the governor “has no position in the Maryland General Assembly.”

“I mean, the governor can have his opinion. Other people can have their opinion, but, you know, the process that we go through is a very thorough process, and I think in the final analysis the joint committee which represented both houses in it made their determination on the facts that were in front of them, and I don’t think the governor or anyone else outside of here has all the facts that they went through,” Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said.

The licensing process in Maryland’s developing medical marijuana program has been extremely competitive. There were 146 applicants for 15 licenses to grow marijuana. The burgeoning industry is expected to be potentially lucrative in Maryland, partly because the state takes one of the more liberal approaches toward access. Morhaim successfully sponsored legislation last year to allow not only physicians, but nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists and nurse midwives to certify patients as eligible to receive marijuana.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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