During the 2016 legislative session, Dan Morhaim authored a law allowing dentists, midwives, podiatrists and other non-physicians to recommend Maryland medical marijuana to patients — a change that could boost the number of patients and sales at dispensaries. Pictured: Marijuana flower at The Health Center, a medical cannabis and recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver. (Vince Chandler, The Denver Post)

Conflict of interest? Pro-pot Maryland lawmaker tied to a company trying to profit off the drug

The state lawmaker who led the effort to legalize Maryland medical marijuana 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.

Here’s who wants to profit from growing medical marijuana in Maryland View Graphic

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 medical-marijuana 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 Bevan-Dangel. “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 (D-Anne 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 Denver-based 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 company. 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.

This story was first published on WashingtonPost.com