Jan. 27, 2017 — Maryland Del. Dan K. Morhaim of Baltimore County, the subject of an ethics inquiry over his lack of transparency concerning his financial arrangement with a marijuana dispensary and growing company, took issue with last week’s column on ethics in Annapolis in which he was mentioned.
His lengthy, legalistic response — which delves into aspects not mentioned in my column — is reproduced below in full. He disputes any and all claims of ethics violations. He asserts he followed legislative rules of conduct.
Not discussed is what the legislature’s Joint Ethics Committee is still considering: Whether his decision to not fully publicize his financial relationship with a company applying for marijuana licenses was acceptable behavior.
Morhaim was a longtime supporter of legalizing medical marijuana and co-sponsored the bill that became law. He also spoke out frequently at meetings of the Medical Cannabis Commission as it promulgated rules for awarding grower and dispensary licenses. He failed to publicly inform the panel, his fellow lawmakers and constituents of his financial relationship with Doctor’s Orders, which won preliminary licenses. He is now the company’s medical director.
Does this constitute a violation of the public’s trust or the General Assembly’s rules of conduct? Morhaim says no.
Morhaim’s other work in the General Assembly over two decades has been exemplary, acting as a leader on procurement reforms and giving much-needed expert guidance, as an emergency room physician, on a host of medical matters.
Yet the marijuana ethics issue was so troubling to legislative leaders that Morhaim was removed from the committee handling key health policy bills and lost his subcommittee chairmanship.
This is not the first time Morhaim has defended himself against an accusation of unprofessional conduct.
In 2005, he was reprimanded by the state’s physician disciplinary board. He agreed to a one-year probation for pre-signing blank forms falsely certifying he had examined nursing home residents and found that they met conditions required for withdrawal of treatment.
Morhaim, juggling two jobs as an ER doctor and a physician for a nursing home, maintained this was a clerical mistake and that no patient safety issues were involved.
The physician board felt otherwise but gave him one of it less severe penalties.
Here, then, is Morhaim’s letter explaining his side of the current ethics controversy:
“You got several important points wrong in your articles about me.
“First, this investigation began because of an erroneous Washington Post report that suggested I had not made proper disclosures. In fact, I did. The Post has since retracted its erroneous report. [Editor’s Note: The Post did not retract its story nor indicate it was “erroneous.” It simply elaborated on the article, presenting more of Morhaim’s side and fuller details about Maryland’s legislative disclosure rules.]
“The Washington Post made the following correction on 10/14/2016 that recognized that I followed all disclosure rules. The Post wrote: ‘Correction: Earlier versions of this article included incomplete information about what Maryland Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) reported on financial disclosure forms. While Morhaim did not report that he had been hired as a consultant to be the clinical director of the prospective medical cannabis company Doctor’s Orders, he did disclose that he might work as a consultant in the medical cannabis field and had received income as a consultant. Maryland law requires lawmakers to disclose sources of income but does not require those who work as consultants or lawyers to reveal their clients. A July 14 letter from Dea Daly, ethics counsel to the General Assembly, said Morhaim was not required to disclose his consulting clients on the form.’
“In an email (9/28/2016) sent to me, the Washington Post reporter concluded that, ‘I plan on reporting that nothing in these emails shows that you were trying to lobby for Doctor’s Orders and nothing shows you pushing regulations that appear to narrowly benefit Doctor’s Orders.’ On 9/29/2016, the Post published, ‘The emails do not show Morhaim directly pushing for any changes that appear to be tailored specifically to benefit Doctor’s Orders’. (This statement appeared in paragraph 20 of a 24-paragraph article.)
“It’s unfortunate and inappropriate that you’ve based your articles on allegations solely from other media. At no time did you contact me to get my perspective on these issues.
“Second, before I had any business dealings with a medical cannabis applicant, I consulted with the Legislative Ethics Committee’s counsel about its propriety, and I followed their advice. All the proper disclosures as required by State Ethics Law were made, and these are in the public record.
“Third, because I was following the written advice of the Legislative Ethics Committee staff, it was felt that there might be a conflict of interest on the part of that staff. Therefore an independent counsel was deemed advisable to insure that the investigation was above suspicion. There is no suggestion that retaining the independent counsel reflects on the gravity of the investigation. It’s also important to note that no charges or complaint have been filed in the case.
“Fourth, I had no contact with any medical cannabis applicant until after the enabling 2015 legislation was enacted. I have been fighting for Maryland patients to have access to medical cannabis for the last 14 years, and my record on disinterested health public policy is second to none. For the one related bill I introduced after that (HB104 – 2016), I received clearance in writing in advance from the ethics counselor. Further, neither I, nor any member of my family, has any financial interest in any cannabis entity.
“Fifth, my consulting work for an applicant was never kept secret. That’s why we’re having this discussion to begin with. It was properly disclosed on the application, which is a public document. I didn’t tout this association because this would have been improper. Had I done so, it would have been perceived as lobbying for the applicant instead of letting the rigorous double blind selection process of the Cannabis Commission play out. My consulting work was focused exclusively on clinical issues and concluded in the fall of 2015.
“Sixth, my work as a consultant and as a practicing physician is not different in any way from the work done by the many legislators – in our citizen legislature – who are lawyers, accountants, or businesspersons. They are required to disclose that they have dealings with subject matter affected by state legislation, but as consultants they are not required to name their clients on the Legislative Ethics disclosure forms. The ethics counselor, as part of the disclosure filing process, confirmed this policy to me in writing.
“If you wish, documentation of any or all of the above can be provided to you.
” Last, I respectfully ask you to do what the Washington Post did: print a correction to the facts.
“Thank you for your consideration, and should you choose to write further articles about this one aspect of my legislative activities, I trust you will keep in mind the factual record provided to you now.
“Del. Dan Morhaim”