DC Mayor Gray Battles Maryland Rep. Harris Over $25 Pot Fine

Image: DC Mayor Gray Battles Maryland Rep. Harris Over $25 Pot Fine Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, left, and Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris.

Monday, 14 Jul 2014 02:27 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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A feud has erupted between Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray and Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris over a $25 fine for marijuana possession in the district, according to The New York Times.

After Harris laid the groundwork for blocking the new law over fears it will encourage teenage drug use, Gray hit back by calling on D.C. residents to boycott the beach resorts in Maryland.

"He is interfering with democracy in this city, and we want people to understand how we feel about it," the mayor said, noting that Maryland and D.C. both decriminalized pot this year.

Fifty percent of Washington’s population is black, while 90 percent of people arrested on pot possession charges are black, the Times said.

The mayor accused conservative members of Congress for sticking their noses in D.C.’s affairs through the Constitution to promote their own agendas.

"These are things people can’t even do in their own home states, and they use the District of Columbia to make an example out of us," Gray said.

David Catania, a district council member, also alleged that Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill highlight problems in Washington to win over voters back home or nationally.

"There’s a long tradition of people trying to score points off of us," he said.

Catania said Harris’ bid to block the pot bill was an attempt to boost his campaign for leadership of the Republican Study Committee, which aims to push the House more to the right.

The position opened up following House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprise defeat in Virginia to tea party candidate Dave Brat.

Harris, a physician elected in 2010, denied there is any political motive behind his opposition to the marijuana legislation.

"If I were looking to advance my position among the broad spectrum of Republicans, this is probably not the way to do it," said Harris, noting that the reduction to a $25 civil fine for possession of one ounce of marijuana could increase drug use among D.C. youths.

"One ounce can be almost 100 joints," he said. "That is not a small amount. Society has some responsibility for protecting minors. I think the D.C. law protects them in no way, shape or form."

The law passed by 10-1 in a council vote four months ago. But Harris introduced an amendment to a spending bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee, which would prevent the district from using its tax revenues to enforce decriminalization.

The measure would first go to a vote in the House, and then face a joint conference vote with the Democrat-controlled Senate, the Times added. The budget rider is a roundabout way for lawmakers to stop local laws, a power granted to Congress in the Constitution.

"Shouldn’t the people of the District of Columbia in a democracy be permitted to make decisions?" Gray said. "We have more people in the District of Columbia than in the whole state of Wyoming or in Vermont. I can’t imagine Rep. Harris feels he ought to interfere in the business of those two states."

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