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Maryland House reprimands Morhaim over ethics concerns

"There's no question in my mind that what was done was completely unethical," said Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking at a news conference on Del. Dan Morhaim.

The House of Delegates punished Del. Dan Morhaim with a formal reprimand Friday because he advocated for policies that benefit medical marijuana companies without fully disclosing that he was a paid consultant for one.

The "resolution of reprimand," adopted unanimously without debate, followed a seven-minute public accounting of Morhaim's actions. The discipline does not affect Morhaim's seat in the legislature.

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The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics conducted a months-long investigation and determined that Morhaim violated the spirit of the state's ethics laws. The committee said that he did not break the letter of law but that his conduct was "improper."

"There's certain lines that people should know not to step across," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch after the vote.

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The Baltimore County Democrat and physician issued a defense and apology after the committee's 17-page report was distributed to his colleagues Thursday afternoon. On Friday, after the reprimand, he told reporters the scrutiny of his conduct was a "circus."

"I accepted the committee's decision in order to put this matter behind us," Morhaim said. "I did things that reflected badly on the House, but they were not violations of the law, which is what the ethics report said. I broke no law, violated no rules."

Morhaim listened, eyes closed and frowning, as ethics committee co-chair Del. Adrienne Jones recounted how Morhaim secured a contract with a medical marijuana company and then advocated before the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission on several occasions without telling commissioners he had financial ties to the industry.

"Delegate Morhaim knew he had a level of credibility, influence and access to the commission that other persons — including other legislators — did not," said Jones, a Baltimore Democrat. "He leveraged that influence by using his public position to advocate for a policy he should have known could have resulted in gain for himself or his employer."

The company he works for, Doctor's Orders, later won licenses to grow, process and dispense the drug in a double-blind process that concealed applicants' identities.

The ethics committee said Morhaim should have been more transparent about his dealings and should have told the marijuana commission he agreed to be the clinical director of a dispensary.

"This simple act, though not required by law, would have shown that he understood the principle in the ethics law," Jones said on the House floor.

Morhaim disclosed in filings with the state that he "may" do consulting for a medical marijuana company, which he was directed to complete by legislative ethics counsel Deadra Daly.

Daly later said she would have advised Morhaim differently if he had revealed to her the extent of his advocacy work or his paid position for a company seeking medical marijuana licenses.

As he left the House chamber, Morhaim approached two members of the ethics committee and said, "You could have mentioned that there were no rules or laws broken in that report."

He told reporters the lawbreakers were the people who leaked word of the ethics inquiry to the media.

Meetings of the ethics committee are closed to the public, and their operations are considered confidential unless a public punishment is deemed necessary.

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Morhaim, a 23-year veteran of the legislature, pushed for more than a decade to legalize medical marijuana. He said in the fall he would recuse himself from future legislation involving the industry. That happened at about the same time the ethics committee launched an investigation.

Earlier this year, Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, stripped Morhaim of two leadership posts in the General Assembly and removed him from the Health and Government Operations Committee, on which he had served since 2003.

Baltimore Democratic Del. Cheryl Glenn, the other delegate central to legalizing medical marijuana, said she stopped speaking with Morhaim when she learned of his conduct and said she was dismayed that all he received was a "slap on the wrist."

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday called Morhaim's punishment insufficient.

"There's no question in my mind that what was done was completely unethical," Hogan said during a news conference. Somebody with "such complete disregard for the ethics laws of Maryland should be removed from office rather than slapped on the wrist."

In his letter to colleagues, Morhaim said he would support more clearly written ethics laws that would have required the disclosures he did not make.

Common Cause, a government watchdog group, agreed that it was concerning a lawmaker could be punished for violating the spirit of the law.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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