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Morhaim Talks Medical Marijuana, Gay Marriage and Bipartisanship

Del. Dan Morhaim sat down with Patch to talk about his priorities for this year’s general assembly and his hopes for local development.

Del. Dan Morhaim, a Stevenson resident and District 11 Democrat, says he is excited and optimistic about the future of the Reisterstown/Owings Mills corridor.

With the project in motion and the continuing expansion of , he sees long-term educational and economic benefits coming to the community. Although optimistic, there are some things the delegate wants to refine on the local and state levels, and he has several pieces of legislation he aims to introduce this year. Here’s what he told Patch:

Patch: What are your biggest priorities for this year’s General Assembly?

Dan Morhaim: This will be my 18th year in the legislature and I’m very much a team player and so I work in a bipartisan manner with a lot of legislators to help get bills passed that are in the proper form and do the right thing. As deputy majority leader, chair of a subcommittee and on a number of working groups, I see my role now as trying to facilitate a lot of discussions between folks and build consensus on a range of issues.

A few bills that I’m involved in on my own … include an improvement to electronic recycling bills, which is an initiative that I undertook back in 2004, and which is doing well but it needs an update. I will be doing a bill about organ donation. I’m working with others [on] how to expand solar panels to all government buildings, state, county and schools. Medical marijuana, to be sure. And I have a bill to have Maryland ratify the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allows for the direct election of senators, which we haven’t done and it’s about 100 years late and I think It’s always important to pay attention to details and complete paperwork.

P: What are going to be the major debates of the General Assembly this year?

DM: I think the public’s pretty aware of the high-profile items that are going to be the major debates, and that would include the budget and all its ramifications of taxes and revenue programs. My perspective has been and will continue to be that there is a third path. We constantly get caught in this “raise taxes, fees or services,” which nobody particularly likes, or cut programs, which again, nobody particularly likes, especially if it’s a program that’s near and dear to their heart. My focus as chair of the subcommittee of government operations has been to improve efficiency in government operations.

How do you do that? We’ve changed a lot of the rules of bidding, so that all that bids for government works are open and competitive and transparent. We’ve pushed consortium buying. Very simple concept, the more you buy, you get a volume discount. Believe it or not, that was not the posture that government was taking and there’s still a lot work to do in that regard.

P: You co-sponsored a , which passed last year. What are the next steps for this year?

DM: I’m the only physician in the general assembly, and board certified in two fields, on the faculty at Hopkins and still practice medicine when the legislature’s out of session. There was legislation last session, 2011, that did three things. No. 1, it said if you’re caught with marijuana and you convince, prove there’s a medical reason, you’ll actually be innocent of any crime. Before that, you were guilty of a misdemeanor, and now it’s complete innocence. No. 2, it said that physicians can discuss with patients medical marijuana, and not suffer any fear of being disciplined by a health occupation board and that was important. No. 3, it created a workgroup to study the issue.

The workgroup, [to] which I was appointed, did meet and came out with two reports. I support one more than the other, but they overlap about 80 to 90 percent. I decided that in fairness to the workgroup, I am going to have both bills, both reports, turned into legislation and offer both. There’s another medical marijuana bill that’s been filed independent of that and we’ll have a full hearing on all of them.

P: Does the stigma surrounding marijuana make it hard to create this kind of policy?

DM:
There’s a recent poll, I think the total was over 63 percent of Marylanders supported medical marijuana. They understand how that is different than the abuse or recreational use of it and it was over 50 percent for both Democrats and Republicans. So, I think the public understands that there’s a responsible reasonable, rational, accountable way to create a medical marijuana program that does not create new problems, but does in fact help people who otherwise aren’t helped by standard medications.

Speaking as a physician, there are drugs that are far more dangerous that are prescribed every day, that I prescribe in my clinical practice, than marijuana. I think that what we want to have is really two things. One, have a doctor-patient relationship with marijuana, not a dealer-patient relationship, and if somebody would read through the bill they would see how that’s actually structured in a very responsible and accountable way. And the other is, we want to get, in this war on drugs – which I think isn’t working, but that’s another topic – let’s at least get the sick and the dying off the battlefield. There’s a segment of the population, that certainly you should try all the standard medications first, but when it doesn’t work, and marijuana, which has been extensively studied, can work, then it ought to be made available to them.

I think there’s 7,000 deaths per year in the United States from aspirin and Tylenol, legal substances you can buy over the counter, but in all of recorded medical history there’s not one overdose death from marijuana.

P: What is the latest on the debate and where do you stand?

DM: The bill is now in the House, been assigned to both judiciary and the health and government operations committee. It’s in the committee where the hearings take place, the public weighs in. I’m on health and government operations, so this will actually be my first opportunity to hear the bill specifically. So I’m going to wait, as I think it’s prudent, to hear the bill hearing, hear both sides of the argument and hear from constituents. That’s my job.

P: Do you have any personal problem with gay marriage?

DM: I’m inclined to support the bill. I’ve learned over my years in office that there’s a process for a reason and to jump ahead is often a mistake. We don’t pass concepts, we pass specific words on a page, so I will wait, take all the evidence in, and think about it very carefully. When the time comes, [I will decide] how to vote.

P: What issues should Baltimore County residents follow?

DM: I think is No. 1. The city lost population, and therefore it should go down a district. But what’s going on is that the city district is being pushed out in the west side of the county and that pushes the 10th District up and then pushes our 11th District over.

For me, personally, politically, that’s irrelevant. What matters is that communities that have like interests, schools, transportation, organizations like ROG and other kinds of affiliations are being split into two or three districts. And generally that makes things more difficult. You could argue that it may make things better because I’ll have more legislators to talk to, but it I think it actually works the other way and I think that’s a concern.

You don’t think there’s much chance that things will change but you never can tell, so until it’s final, which includes a court case perhaps, then I think it’s important to continue to try to keep communities of interest together, particularly Owings Mills and Reisterstown.

Beyond that, I think a big step that’s going forward that we worked hard for in our district, are two things, one is the metro centre development, the community college and the library.

That’s important. The other one is Stevenson University, which is continuing to grow. Having a growing stable four-year university in the heart of Owings Mills is a wonderful long-term event for stability in the community, for employment, for property values and just for culture and entertainment, whether it’s football or theater, and for education in general. People tend to stay in the area where they went to college. These were things that took years to set in motion and now that they’re coming, we’re going to have benefit for a long, long time.

Editor's note: Del. Morhaim's comments were shortened and lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Keep an eye on Patch as we sit down with the other District 11 legislators to hear what their hopes are for this year's Maryland General Assembly.

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