- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - After meeting for nearly three hours behind closed doors Wednesday, Maryland lawmakers on an ethics panel declined to say whether they have decided to hold a full investigation into a lawmaker who helped design the state’s medical marijuana law and is a consultant for a company in line to be licensed to grow and process the drug.

Lawmakers on the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics say they are bound by law to keep the proceedings confidential.

“There’s nothing I can tell you,” Sen. James DeGrange, a co-chairman of the 12-member panel, said as reporters followed him down a hallway asking for details. “Everything is confidential.”

Del. Dan Morhaim’s roles as a leading advocate for the law and his position as a consultant with Doctors Orders Maryland have raised questions in Annapolis. Morhaim contends he followed ethics rules and regulations.

“I followed all the rules, broke none, and will cooperate fully with the committee,” Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat wrote in an email Wednesday.

State ethics law prohibits an official from intentionally using the prestige of office for personal or another’s gain.

Morhaim was one of six lawmakers on a legislative conference committee on medical marijuana legislation in 2014, when three delegates and three senators worked out differences between the two chambers.

Morhaim also sponsored legislation this year that successfully expanded the law to allow dentists, podiatrists and certain registered nurses - as well as physicians - to certify patients as eligible to receive marijuana. Morhaim, who is a doctor, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1994.

Maryland’s medical marijuana is expected to be lucrative for businesses that receive licenses, because the state’s law takes a liberal approach to marijuana access for the sick. The licensing process has been extremely competitive and difficult in Maryland. There were 146 applicants for 15 licenses to grow marijuana. There were 124 applicants for 15 processor licenses. One company has filed suit and another is seeing to join the action against the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission after the panel bumped the companies out of the top 15 applicants to grow marijuana and replaced them with two other companies to satisfy geographic diversity concerns.

Separately Wednesday, the Greater Baltimore Committee held a panel discussion on the developing industry in Maryland.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, the chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland who sponsored the 2014 legislation and has been critical of the licensing process for failing to give adequate consideration to ethnic diversity, said legislators need to revisit the law in the next session to address shortcomings.

“We can fix this,” Glenn said, adding that she hoped to get medical marijuana in the hands of patients “hopefully within a year’s time.”

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