After ethics reprimand, Morhaim has much work ahead of him

Community Times

For all the wrong reasons, Dr. Dan Morhaim has been the center of attention in the Maryland House of Delegates.

The Pikesville-Owings Mills delegate was embroiled in a lengthy ethics investigation that led earlier this month to a rare reprimand by his colleagues.

He lost his subcommittee chairmanship, his role as deputy majority leader and much of his credibility.

Here's what happened.

Since 2003, Morhaim, an emergency-room physician, has led the charge for medical marijuana. His bill finally passed in 2013, leading to formation of a commission with the task of setting out rules for selecting companies to grow and process medical cannabis.

As an expert, Morhaim became an unofficial adviser to the commissioners, flooding them with email suggestions and speaking at meetings more often than anyone else.

He even advocated forcefully for a rewrite of proposed regulations on how to select cannabis licensees.

That proved a mistake.

It turned out Morhaim was a contract employee of a company vying for the lucrative licenses, receiving compensation that an investigating panel called "substantial."

He failed to tell the cannabis commission of this conflict of interest. When he stood up to speak or emailed staff or commissioners with advice, he never let them know he had financial ties to one of the license applicants.

He also failed to fully inform legislative officials of those financial connections.

Last summer, the truth dribbled out and an ethics probe was launched in Annapolis. Here's what the joint committee concluded:

"As a prominent legislative leader and long-time advocate for medical cannabis in the General Assembly, Delegate Morhaim knew he had a level of credibility, influence, and access to the [cannabis commission] that other persons, including other legislators, did not. He leveraged that influence to advocate for a policy that he should have known could have resulted in gain to himself or his employer."

While the panel found Morhaim has not broken any law, it said he had "intentionally used his public position" to "obtain private gain for himself."

This, the panel concluded, was "improper" and "contrary to the principles of ethical standards." Morhaim showed "poor judgment that impacted his impartiality," and he had brought dishonor to Maryland's legislature.

That led to a 138-0 vote of reprimand, a move some found insufficient. Gov. Larry Hogan even called for Morhaim's ouster, a statement many chalked up to partisan politics.

Morhaim has defended his actions, blaming the media and vague language in the Public Ethics Law for his missteps.

He offered a weak apology in writing, never taking full responsibility for his lack of transparency.

He did agree to cut off all communication with the cannabis commission and to have no involvement with future legislative actions tied to medical marijuana.

Finally, he wrote that he would terminate his employment contract.

Thus ends Dan Morhaim's ethics controversy. For a 23-year veteran of the legislature it had to be a sad day, indeed.

Until this episode Morhaim was well regarded in Annapolis. Now his credibility is in tatters, and he faces new difficulties back home in his Owings Mills-Pikesville district.

His reprimand could make him vulnerable to a challenge in the 2018 Democratic primary. Candidates are sure to remind voters of Morhaim's ethics lapses. Will that prove his undoing?

Morhaim has built a loyal following over two decades. But he's never faced a campaign like this. Overcoming his ethics problem is best achieved by admitting his mistake, crafting forward-looking legislation and pledging to voters that he will abide by a strict standard of conduct going forward.

Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. His address is brascovar@hotmail.com.

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