Pubdate: Sun, 17 Jul 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Fenit Nirappil and Aaron Gregg


MD. Delegate Did Not Disclose His Connection to Dispensary Applicant

The state lawmaker who led the effort to legalize medical marijuana 
in Maryland is part of a company trying to sell and profit off the 
drug - a position he never disclosed as he pushed bills and 
regulations to help cannabis businesses.

Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) is the clinical director for 
Doctor's Orders, according to a portion of a dispensary licensing 
application obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request.

The company is seeking to grow, process and sell medical marijuana 
and is competing against hundreds of others for a limited number of 
licenses that are to be awarded by the state starting next month.

Morhaim - a 21-year lawmaker who is an emergency room doctor - was a 
sponsor and driving force behind the 2014 law legalizing 
medical-marijuana businesses. He has continued to champion the 
program and is a fixture at meetings of the Maryland Medical Cannabis 
Commission, offering advice on regulating the industry.

But Morhaim never disclosed at those meetings or during deliberations 
in the Maryland State House this year that he was part of a company 
applying for medicalmarijuana licenses.

For the past year, he has declined to answer questions from reporters 
about possible marijuana business dealings. After being presented 
with records showing his involvement with Doctor's Orders, Morhaim 
said he began talks with the company in late 2015, has no ownership 
interest and would be a consultant advising on medical issues if the 
company is granted a license. Morhaim said he had cleared the job 
with Dea Daly, the General Assembly's ethics adviser.

"When you are a citizen legislature, people do have jobs, and I'm 
entitled to work as a physician," Morhaim said. "I don't see any 
conflicts of interest, and anyone can review the legislation I've 
done, and everyone can see it's all aboveboard."

Daly said she could not comment on private consultations with a 
delegate. In general, she said, Maryland's ethics law prohibits 
lawmakers from voting on bills that specifically benefit businesses 
they own or have a stake in. The law does not forbid lawmakers from 
sponsoring or voting on legislation affecting industries in which 
those lawmakers work.

For example, farmers who are state delegates could vote on bills 
involving industry-wide farming subsidies but must recuse themselves 
from bills allocating specific ones directly to their own farms.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of the watchdog group 
Common Cause Maryland, said she found it "very troubling" that 
Morhaim has used his position as an elected official to influence 
policy decisions affecting the medical-marijuana market without 
revealing to the public that he is part of a company that could 
benefit from such decisions.

"It comes down to public trust: Disclosure is the public's ability to 
know all of the potential influencers that can be shaping an elected 
official's decisions," said BevanDangel. "When you don't have 
disclosure, you don't have trust."

During the 2016 legislative session, Morhaim authored a law allowing 
dentists, midwives, podiatrists and other non-physicians to recommend 
medical marijuana to patients - a change that could boost the number 
of patients and sales at dispensaries.

This past week, he urged members of the cannabis commission, which 
regulates the industry and awards the licenses, to give preference to 
applicants applying to both grow and process medical marijuana - a 
category that applies to Doctor's Orders.

Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission, said he was 
not aware of Morhaim disclosing that he is part of a group that has 
applied for licenses.

A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who appointed Jameson, declined 
to comment specifically on Morhaim. But spokesman Matt Clark said in 
a statement that "the work of the commission must be above reproach, 
and the public must have total confidence that the process is fair 
and equitable."

Morhaim said officials at Doctor's Orders never asked him to 
introduce or amend legislation or sought his help to change 
regulations in their company's favor.

"I've been working on this issue since 2003," Morhaim said. "This is 
an issue I care about, and I believe it will help a lot of people."

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch (DAnne Arundel) did 
not respond to questions about Morhaim.

Doctor's Orders submitted applications to operate dispensaries in 
Baltimore, Baltimore County and Southern Maryland. The commission 
received 811 dispensary applications in all and may grant up to two 
licenses per state senate district, for a total of 94.

In its application, Doctor's Orders touts Morhaim as a "highly 
sought-after" doctor who would work exclusively with them.

The company credits him with "tapping into his vast network . . . to 
enhance the entire Doctor's Orders operation," including by 
assembling an advisory board that features top medical professionals 
from the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and Sinai 
Hospital in Baltimore - institutions where Morhaim holds or recently 
held positions.

The application says he "will work closely with the chief executive 
officer in the development and implementation of Doctor's Order's 
strategies, policies and procedures."

Jeff Black, chief operating officer of Doctor's Orders, said state 
officials told the company Morhaim's dual roles as pot entrepreneur 
and lawmaker would not be problematic.

"We vetted this stuff with the state," said Black, founder of the 
Black Restaurant Group. "They said repeatedly backwards and forwards 
that they saw no conflict."

The chief executive of Doctor's Orders is Glenn Weinberg, a partner 
at the Baltimore development firm responsible for the Maryland Live 
Casino. The team also includes Joshua Kappel, Brian Vicente and 
Christian Sederberg, founding members of a Denverbased marijuana-law 
firm, and Steve Fox, who leads an affiliated political consulting 
group. Morhaim spoke at a seminar organized by the law firm last year.

Last month, The Post published a database of more than 900 people 
involved in prospective cultivation companies, which was compiled 
from background-check authorization forms. To avoid cronyism or any 
appearance of bias, the team evaluating the applications does not see 
the names of individuals associated with each application. The Post's 
study found that many applicant teams include people with political, 
business and law enforcement experience. At least one-third of the 
grower applicants had ties to marijuana companies based elsewhere.

Morhaim's name did not appear on the disclosure forms that were part 
of the growing application submitted by Doctor's Orders, even though 
all employees, volunteers and officers were required to submit 
authorization forms for background checks. He said he is not 
considered an employee.

As a leading supporter of medical marijuana in the legislature, the 
Democrat has received more than $9,000 in campaign contributions from 
people associated with at least seven companies that have applied for 
medical-marijuana licenses. About half of that came from members of 
MAK LLC, a company that applied to process and dispense marijuana.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom