It’s per­sonal for Har­ris, pot ac­tivists

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FROM PAGE ONE -

men­tal dis­agree­ment about not only mar­i­juana, but the bound­aries of cit­i­zen ac­tivism.

Har­ris has been branded “Pub­lic En­emy No. 1” by the ac­tivists. He ac­cuses them of “stalk­ing” him.

“I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate pro­mot­ing protest that gets phys­i­cal,” said Har­ris, who in 2014 tucked lan­guage into fed­eral bud­get leg­is­la­tion that pro­hib­ited the Dis­trict of Columbia from spend­ing money to fully carry out a mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion law ap­proved at the bal­lot that year. Peo­ple can pos­sess or use lim­ited amounts of mar­i­juana at home in Wash­ing­ton, but no one can sell it for recre­ational use.

Congress has con­tin­ued to write the restrictio­n into its spend­ing mea­sures — prompt­ing ac­tivists to keep ask­ing Har­ris why he thinks he knows more than Dis­trict vot­ers about what is good for them.

“All I know is Mr. Eidinger has asked me the ques­tion,” said Har­ris, 62, a Johns Hop­kins-trained anes­the­si­ol­o­gist who has a framed lab coat hanging on the wall of his of­fice. “I’ve an­swered it, and he in­sists on … I’d use the word ‘stalk­ing.’ My an­swer hasn’t changed, so I don’t know what dif­fer­ent an­swer he ex­pects.”

Har­ris feels strongly about mar­i­juana be­cause, he says, it has been linked to a host of phys­i­cal and so­cial ills. He has an out­sized role in Dis­trict of Columbia gov­er­nance as a mem­ber of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, which has pow­er­ful say over D.C. fi­nances.

Eidinger, 45, who paid $900 a month for the Sal­is­bury rental while keep­ing his home in the Dis­trict, waves off Har­ris’ crit­i­cism. He says he is merely prac­tic­ing civil disobe­di­ence.

“We’re not be­ing ag­gres­sive; we’re be­ing cit­i­zens,” said Eidinger, the so­cial ac­tion direc­tor for Dr. Bron­ner’s, a nat­u­ral soap com­pany.

Eidinger has tried to speak to Har­ris at town hall meet­ings, in a park­ing lot and — last year — dur­ing the con­gress­man’s Capi­tol Hill speech in front of an au­di­ence of lob­by­ists and ex­ec­u­tives at an herbal prod­ucts trade as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing.

That ex­change in June be­gan when Har­ris asked whether any­body had any ques­tions. It im­me­di­ately de­volved into a pe­cu­liar dis­cus­sion about Eidinger’s daugh­ter, who at­tends the Duke Elling­ton School of the Arts, a pop­u­lar pub­lic school in Wash­ing­ton.

“You know me, I’m a con­stituent, ac­tu­ally,” Eidinger be­gan.

“Well, kind of,” Har­ris replied from be­hind a lectern.

The di­a­logue, cap­tured in a video posted on the DC Mar­i­juana Jus­tice Face­book page, con­tin­ued.

Eidinger: No, I moved to Sal­is­bury re­cently.

Har­ris: Ex­cept your daugh­ter wants to go to a pub­lic school here in the city, so you still have to fig­ure that out, I un­der­stand.

Eidinger: Well, you can have homes in mul­ti­ple cities.

Har­ris: You sure can, but you can’t educate your chil­dren in mul­ti­ple pub­lic school sys­tems. Are you a mem­ber of this as­so­ci­a­tion, by the way?

Eidinger Yes, I am. I rep­re­sent a com­pany that sells over $100 mil­lion worth of prod­ucts a year.

Har­ris: I don’t con­sider cannabis a nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ment. Next ques­tion.

Eidinger: I didn’t ac­tu­ally ask my ques­tion.

Har­ris thanked the au­di­ence and left. “The mar­i­juana ac­tivists have clearly got­ten un­der his skin,” said at­tor­ney Mark Gold­stone, who has rep­re­sented many of them — in­clud­ing Don­lan, who was charged with con­sump­tion of mar­i­juana in a pro­hib­ited pub­lic space for the in­ci­dent in the hall­way. The case was dis­missed after she agreed to stay away from the con­gress­man’s of­fice for three months, ac­cord­ing to Gold­stone.

Gold­stone also rep­re­sented Bur­dett, 21, who re­ceived a sen­tence of com­mu­nity ser­vice and probation in March for stream­ing the meet­ing with the Har­ris staff mem­ber.

“It sad­dens me that Rep. Har­ris has de­cided to need­lessly drop the ham­mer to make an ex­am­ple out of me over a mis­take I quickly cor­rected and apol­o­gized for,” Bur­dett said in an email.

Har­ris said this week that the Bur­dett meet­ing “was in my of­fice in Sal­is­bury, which is a pri­vate build­ing where we rent an of­fice. We have peo­ple who come to those of­fices with very per­sonal prob­lems. So our blan­ket rule is there is no record­ing in this of­fice.”

Eidinger and his fel­low ac­tivists of­ten try to im­bue their ral­lies and events with cre­ativ­ity. They have dis­played in­flat­able joints out­side the White House and distribute­d cannabis at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.

This past April Fools’ Day, they posted an item on so­cial me­dia say­ing falsely that Har­ris had re­signed his con­gres­sional seat to lobby for a cannabis re­tailer, with the hash­tags “WOOHOO” and “Re­joice.”

Har­ris, a for­mer state sen­a­tor, was eas­ily re-elected in Novem­ber to his fifth term rep­re­sent­ing Mary­land’s 1st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, which is made up of parts of the coun­ties of Baltimore, Car­roll and Har­ford, as well as the East­ern Shore.

Mileah Kromer, direc­tor of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Pol­i­tics Cen­ter at Goucher Col­lege, said Har­ris is pop­u­lar with many vot­ers in the con­ser­va­tive dis­trict, re­gard­less of what they might think of his mar­i­juana po­si­tion.

“He’s fine with his dis­trict,” Kromer said. But Har­ris is at odds with pub­lic opin­ion gen­er­ally, in­clud­ing among young Re­pub­li­can vot­ers. “Taken to­gether, a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans sup­port le­gal­iza­tion. And a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­li­can mil­len­ni­als sup­port le­gal­iza­tion,” she said.

Mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion has been dis­cussed for years in the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly with­out gaining much trac­tion. Demo­cratic lead­ers have in­di­cated they might be open to putting the mat­ter on the statewide bal­lot in 2020 for vot­ers to de­cide. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana is state-reg­u­lated, with lo­cal law­mak­ers given some lee­way in the place­ment of the new busi­nesses.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey last Oc­to­ber found that le­gal­iza­tion is fa­vored by 62 per­cent of Amer­i­cans.

But Har­ris, the lone Re­pub­li­can in Mary­land’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and a mem­ber of the con­ser­va­tive Free­dom Cau­cus, cites warn­ings from the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse about mar­i­juana’s po­ten­tial health haz­ards, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial long-term cog­ni­tive ef­fects on the devel­op­ing brain.

Dur­ing a 2016 Har­ris event recorded by Eidinger’s group, the con­gress­man said Wash­ing­ton’s de­ci­sion to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana was “ir­re­spon­si­ble,” cit­ing the high African Amer­i­can un­em­ploy­ment rate and low high school grad­u­a­tion rate in the Dis­trict.

Har­ris ap­peared ex­as­per­ated at the event as Eidinger — wear­ing blue jeans and a Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als sweat­shirt — ap­proached him and asked about mar­i­juana and Dis­trict vot­ers’ rights.

“Adam, we have a Con­sti­tu­tion,” Har­ris says in the video. “D.C. is not a state. We can make it a state if you get enough votes.”

“Oh, my gosh,” Har­ris said in an in­ter­view when asked about the ex­change and his com­ments about jobs and ed­u­ca­tion in Wash­ing­ton. “If you look at the data on aca­demic achieve­ment, grad­u­a­tion rates — even the po­ten­tial for low­er­ing IQ among ado­les­cents who use mar­i­juana — it’s all bad. There is no good news there,” he said.

Dis­trict of Columbia law per­mits pos­ses­sion of lim­ited amounts of recre­ational mar­i­juana, but the Har­ris lan­guage has pre­vented of­fi­cials from con­don­ing or reg­u­lat­ing its sale.

Be­cause Repub­li­cans lost con­trol of the U.S. House in the Novem­ber elec­tions, the lan­guage — which ex­pires in Oc­to­ber — will not ap­pear in this year’s House spend­ing bill. But it could still wind up in the fi­nal bill since the Se­nate and White House re­main un­der Re­pub­li­can con­trol.

“I would hope it would be (in­cluded) be­cause I think we need to con­tinue send­ing the mes­sage that we have to put the brakes on le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana un­til we deal with all the ram­i­fi­ca­tions that le­gal­iza­tion can have on ba­si­cally the health sta­tus of the coun­try,” Har­ris said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and other Wash­ing­ton of­fi­cials are hop­ing to de­feat the rider, which they con­sider un­war­ranted con­gres­sional in­ter­fer­ence.

With­out the Har­ris lan­guage, Eidinger said grow-at-home res­i­dents would be per­mit­ted to sell mar­i­juana at farm mar­kets and other lo­ca­tions.

Eidinger has been in the sales busi­ness him­self. In 2012, he gave up his two Capi­tol Hemp stores — they sold cloth­ing, bongs, rolling pa­per and other para­pher­na­lia — in a deal with law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties after the stores were raided by po­lice.

Soon after­ward, he helped cham­pion the le­gal­iza­tion ef­fort in Wash­ing­ton.

Con­tin­u­ing his po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy, he leased the house in Sal­is­bury and be­gan help­ing Al­li­son Gal­braith, a Demo­cratic can­di­date for the 1st Dis­trict seat. Gal­braith lost in the pri­mary, and Har­ris then de­feated Demo­crat Jesse Colvin in Novem­ber.

Eidinger said the lease ex­pires this month, and — with no elec­tion this year — he isn’t re­new­ing. But he in­sists he will re­turn to the East­ern Shore.

“I do in­tend to find a house in his dis­trict next year. I think it’s go­ing to take a long time to get him out. Maybe after re­dis­trict­ing in 2020,” he said.

COUR­TESY OF ADAM EIDINGER

Mar­i­juana ac­tivists Adam Eidinger and Kr­ish Fur­nish are pic­tured at the brick row­house that he rented in U.S. Rep. Andy Har­ris’ dis­trict so he could vote against Har­ris.

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