Ethics staff for the General Assembly are conducting a preliminary investigation into Del. Dan K. Morhaim's ties to the medical marijuana industry, according to three people with direct knowledge of the inquiry.
The preliminary work precedes an Oct. 19 meeting of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, where some of Morhaim's colleagues in the legislature will vote on whether to launch a full investigation into his conduct.
Morhaim pushed to legalize medical marijuana in the state, advocated for the rules governing the industry and was a paid consultant for a company awarded two of the lucrative licenses to grow and dispense the drug.
The investigation would consider whether he violated any state ethics laws.
Morhaim declined to discuss the pending investigation. He issued a statement by email Thursday that said, "I followed all ethics rules and regulations. I will cooperate fully with the Legislative Ethics Committee."
Morhaim, a physician and a 22-year veteran of the legislature, has come under scrutiny for his dual role as a chief architect of the law legalizing medical marijuana and a consultant for an aspiring medical marijuana company.
He consulted for a company called Doctor's Orders and later agreed to become its clinical director if it won a license to operate a dispensary. But he did not publicly acknowledge that relationship until it was reported by news organizations.
Morhaim told The Baltimore Sun in July that he took "one modest paycheck" for being a consultant. In his public financial disclosures, filed in July 2015, he noted a possible conflict of interest because he "may do medical consulting and/or treatment" in "addiction issues, medical cannabis."
In the fall of 2015, Doctor's Orders filed an application with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that designated Morhaim as clinical director. During the 2016 General Assembly session, Morhaim successfully advocated for an expansion of the state law to allow more patients to get the drug.
Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, has appeared regularly before the commission as it set up the industry and he has testified on policy decisions.
He has said his affiliation with Doctor's Orders is not a conflict of interest and he followed all disclosure rules.
Although he has also said he regretted not being more transparent about his relationship with the company, he has defended his conduct, saying he sought and received approval from the legislature's ethics counsel.
"In each moment, as I went, I followed all the rules the best that I knew how," he said in July.
Deadra Daly, ethics counsel to the General Assembly, sent a letter to Morhaim in July reviewing his disclosure filings and saying her advice was based on the facts he provided. In the same letter, she noted that the law requires lawmakers to disclose if they're being compensated to appear before state agencies.
Del. Marvin E. Holmes, co-chair of the ethics committee, would not discuss the purpose of the Oct. 19 meeting. But he emphasized that the role of the committee is to make sure the public trusts elected officials.
"That's one of the primary responsibilities of the ethics committee, to make sure that the public understands we are here to serve them and not ourselves," Holmes said. "As chair of this committee, that's exactly what I'm going to assure that the public understands."
Records show Doctor's Orders, which has already won preliminary licenses to grow and process the drug, described Morhaim as an integral part of its team, saying he would "work closely with the Chief Executive Officer in the development and implementation of Doctor's Orders strategies, policies and procedures, and staff training to ensure organizational effectiveness and compliance with rules and regulations."
Maryland Policy & Politics Newsletter
Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.
The company's applications described Morhaim as a "highly sought after" clinical director and longtime advocate for medical marijuana who "helped ensure that its use would become legal in the state."
In another part of the application that described why the company hoped to succeed, it highlighted his role as state legislator.
"Dr. Morhaim has a strong background in public service, having been elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1994 and every 4 years since," the application said. "Therefore, Dr. Morhaim brings a unique background and perspective that makes him ideally qualified to serve in this capacity."