A state lawmaker who has been a leading advocate of Maryland's medical marijuana law said Wednesday he wished he had been more transparent about his business connection to the cannabis industry.
Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, has drawn scrutiny for publicly telling the state's medical cannabis commission how to set up the industry at the same time he agreed to work as a clinical director for a private company seeking a highly coveted license.
Morhaim, who is a physician, sponsored legislation passed by the General Assembly that legalized and helped form the industry.
"In hindsight," Morhaim told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday, he should have disclosed the extent of his relationship with Doctor's Orders LLC, "if I knew a better way to do it."
He said his affiliation with the company is not a conflict of interest and he followed all disclosure rules.
"In each moment, as I went, I followed all the rules the best that I knew how," he said. "At that time, it was the only way."
Morhaim said he began working with Doctor's Orders on an unpaid basis late last year. He filed paperwork with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics earlier that year indicating that he "may do medical consulting and/or treatment" in the areas of "addiction issues, medical cannabis."
Morhaim's name appears on the license application for Doctor's Orders, but he did not tell the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics or the state's medical cannabis commission that he hoped to become clinical director if the company were approved.
Morhaim said he was not under legal obligation to disclose it, but in hindsight he would have revealed that information.
Companies have applied for more than 1,080 licenses to grow, process and dispense medical cannabis. The state commission will award 15 licenses for growing operations as soon as next month, and up to 94 licenses for dispensaries will be issued later.
Doctor's Orders is seeking licenses to grow and process medical cannabis and to operate three dispensaries. If the company gets the licenses, Morhaim said, his unpaid role could turn into a paid job.
Morhaim's relationship with Doctor's Orders was first reported by The Washington Post.
Morhaim has regularly attended meetings of the state cannabis commission, and has addressed the panel on issues facing applicants.
"To my knowledge, the delegate had not disclosed having applications before the commission," Patrick Jameson, executive director of the cannabis commission, said in a statement.
Jameson said the commission aims to ensure that the licensing process is "unbiased and fair."
While the cannabis license applications are public documents, information that identifies companies and employees is stripped out for the review process.
An independent consulting company is conducting a preliminary review of applications and will make recommendations to the commission, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said.
Identifying information is removed "to make it as fair and objective as possible," spokesman Christopher Garrett said.
Dr. Paul W. Davies, chairman of the state cannabis commission, declined to comment.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said Morhaim should have disclosed more information about his relationship with Doctor's Orders.
"Disclosure gives the public the ability to know who is influencing your thinking and who is shaping your policy," Bevan-Dangel said. "Anytime a lawmaker has involvement in a company where they could be influencing their thinking, they should list it. Explain the potential conflict and make sure it's front and center."
Morhaim said he discussed his work with Doctor's Orders with the General Assembly's ethics counsel and was cleared to vote on marijuana-related bills. He provided The Sun a letter from the ethics counsel indicating he was allowed to vote because the legislation affected the industry broadly, not his company specifically.
Morhaim sponsored successful legislation this year to allow dentists, podiatrists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners to certify that patients qualify for medical cannabis.
Before he was involved with Doctor's Orders, Morhaim was a chief sponsor of the legislation that set up the state's medical cannabis program.
The first bill was passed in 2013; additional bills were passed in 2014 and 2015, and the commission began accepting license applications late last year.
He's spoken frequently in public about a need for medical cannabis, most recently at a statewide industry conference last week.
Morhaim said he'll continue to ask for ethics advice on bills related to marijuana. He's a member of the House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee, which reviews legislation related to medicine.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch declined to comment.
In its license application, Doctor's Orders praises Morhaim as an experienced doctor who has assembled and chairs "a world-class medical advisory board."
"Dr. Morhaim is passionate about lending his medical expertise and tapping into his network in the state to enhance the entire Doctor's Orders operation," the company wrote in its application.
Morhaim, who has worked as an emergency room doctor for more than 35 years, would be responsible for working with the company's CEO to develop and implement policies.
He would train the workers at the company's dispensaries and provide patients with information about the risks and benefits of medical cannabis, the company wrote. He would also be tasked with answering calls from patients and doctors about medical cannabis.
Company officials did not respond to a request for comment.