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Andy Harris Ready to Treat ‘D.C. and Maryland Differently’ on Marijuana Policy

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris plans to use his power as an appropriator to try to stop the District of Columbia from moving forward with decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.  

The Republican lawmaker confirmed to CQ Roll Call that he intends to introduce an amendment during a Wednesday markup of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which includes D.C.’s local and federal funds, to “target” decriminalization.  

“What the amendment will do is prohibit not only federal funds but D.C. funds to be used to decriminalize marijuana under the current statute,” said Harris, a physician in his second term on the Hill. The attack did not surprise Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has been prepared to defend the District’s decriminalization bill from the GOP since it was transmitted to Congress on April 8. The bill is currently in the midst of a 60-day review period.  

“We will simply have to fight, and fight we will,” she said in a statement.  

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee singled out the D.C.’s legislation during a May 9 hearing  to look at the implications of decriminalizing small amounts of pot in a city that is home to 26 different law enforcement agencies and the nation’s center of government.  

Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., who chaired the panel with a fake joint in hand, confirmed Wednesday that he would support efforts to block decriminalization with an appropriations rider. He said the District has Home Rule but, “you don’t want the nation’s capital to become the nation’s drug capital.”  

Fellow Republican John Fleming, a doctor from Louisiana and one of the House’s most outspoken pot critics, also said he would support the amendment. After the Oversight hearing, he had been considering other routes to block the bill, including a formal resolution of disapproval, which would be more challenging to pass.  

Though the House voted less than a month  ago to block the federal government from interfering with state laws on pot and hemp, Harris thinks the rest of his colleagues are likely to support blocking decriminalization in D.C.  

“You have to separate medical marijuana from decriminalization, and I think what the House did is took an action that spoke I think very specifically to medical marijuana,” Harris said, referring to the May 30 vote. “I think when you go to decriminalization, I think the bar is much higher to make that happen.”  

Back home in Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley recently signed a bill to move possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense. Harris said he opposed that move, and his amendment would “send a clear message, I think, that the House is not in favor of going any further.”  

Norton said she hoped that D.C. was in good company with the 17 states that already decriminalized marijuana, and said it would be “particularly ironic and offensive” if the House votes to block D.C.’s local bill only a few weeks after moving to clear the way for medical marijuana in the states.  

In response to such criticism, Harris told CQ Roll Call: “The Constitution treats the District of Columbia and Maryland differently.”  

The activists at DC Vote, who are leading a coalition of 41 local and national groups in a campaign against appropriations riders on D.C., called Harris’ proposal “deeply offensive.”  

“Just like in the states, the District’s elected leaders should determine practical policy related to local laws,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry.  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.