- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A Maryland legislative ethics panel has recommended a state lawmaker be reprimanded for using his position to advocate for changes to medical marijuana regulations and procedures for awarding licenses that could have benefited a company that employed him.

Del. Dan Morhaim, a longtime advocate of medical marijuana who led efforts to pass legislation allowing it in Maryland, “leveraged that influence to advocate for a policy that he should have known could have resulted in gain to himself or his employer,” said the report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics didn’t find any legal violations, but it concluded he exercised poor judgment.

“His belief that he could keep his role as a legislator, advocating for the implementation of policy and regulations for the use of medical cannabis, separate from his position as a paid consultant for a company seeking to enter the medical cannabis business reflects poor judgment to the detriment of the broader interests of the public, and it has eroded the confidence and trust of the public and other governmental officials who work with legislators, bringing disrepute and dishonor to the General Assembly,” the ethics committee concluded.

Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who is a doctor, apologized to his colleagues in a letter Thursday, though he continued to maintain he did nothing wrong.

“I would like to apologize to the members of the House of Delegates for bringing this body and myself into a negative light in the public media,” Morhaim wrote. “While I have consistently maintained - and do today - that I did nothing wrong and complied with all laws, that was not enough. The harsh fact is that being technically right is not enough.”

Morhaim added that a public mention by him to the state commission regulating medical marijuana about his work with a company seeking a license “might have avoided much public controversy.”

“I was a very visible legislative figure as a result of a 15-year effort to bring medical cannabis to patients,” Morhaim wrote. “I did not recognize the public perception that might be associated by my speaking before the Cannabis Commission on regulatory issues, even if they were detrimental to my client’s interests. For this, I apologize.”

The House of Delegates is scheduled to consider the ethics panel’s report on Friday.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, said in a statement it was “outrageous and beyond disappointing” that the ethics committee didn’t take stronger action.

“Sweeping these problems under the rug undermines public trust in our institutions of government and is an incredible disservice to the people of this state,” Chasse said, adding that the case is evidence that ethics reforms proposed by the governor should be passed.

The reprimand recommendation comes during a legislative session in Maryland that began under a cloud.

State prosecutors indicted a man in January on alleged campaign finance violations, a day before he was scheduled to be sworn in to be a House member representing Baltimore and two days before the start of the 90-day session. Then, a sitting state lawmaker from Prince George’s County abruptly resigned an hour before the session started in January - one day after federal prosecutors announced a former House member had pleaded guilty to bribery. Federal court records noted that a sitting state lawmaker also was a target of the investigation.

Morhaim, who has been a state legislator for 23 years, worked as a consultant for Doctors Orders, a company that has been selected as a finalist to both grow and process medical marijuana in the state. He also sponsored legislation last year that successfully expanded the state’s medical marijuana law to allow dentists, podiatrists and certain registered nurses - as well as physicians - to certify patients as eligible to receive marijuana.

The licensing process in Maryland’s developing medical marijuana program has been extremely competitive. There were 146 applicants for 15 licenses to grow marijuana.

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