Rep. Andy Harris' reputation as a staunch supporter of marijuana prohibition has earned him a chief role in an upcoming Heritage Foundation event on pot policy. The Maryland Republican will deliver a keynote speech on Dec. 9 during a program titled, "Marijuana Policy: Separating Scientific Facts from Popular Fiction," co-hosted by the anti-drug activist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. In its billing for the event, the Heritage Foundation acknowledges public support for pot legalization has skyrocketed, but "so has the scientific understanding of the real dangers of marijuana," the organization declares. It's aiming for a conversation geared toward why Americans should oppose legalization.
Harris, who fiercely opposes both medical and recreational use of marijuana, told CQ Roll Call he plans to speak about the scientific evidence supporting hazards of the drug. He cultivated an interest in health policy during his career as an anesthesiologist and physiologist, and plans to address the crowd both as a medical professional and a member of Congress.
"It's reviewing those studies, with an eye toward making sure that the public policy that is being set in various states and by the federal government doesn't encourage in any way marijuana use by youth," Harris said Tuesday during a conversation in the Speaker's Lobby.
Marijuana advocates believe there might be some fresh momentum for the movement among conservatives that's overshadowed by a few outspoken opponents. For instance, GOP lawmakers joined Democrats this spring in backing an amendment to try to block the federal government from interfering with medical marijuana operations, and Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California recently told his colleagues pot is going to help them politically .
Wielding his power as an appropriator, Harris is still attempting to stop the District of Columbia from joining the 18 states — including his own — that have decriminalized marijuana. Harris has "no idea" what's coming out of the Appropriations Committee as senior members shape a bill to fund the government after Dec. 11, but said, "I'm sure if we don't get something good this time, we'll try something next year."
Rep. John Fleming, a physician and fellow opponent of liberalizing marijuana laws, will also address the Heritage Foundation event. The Louisiana Republican authored a 2006 book on addiction, and disputes marijuana’s medicinal value. He blames pot consumption for a spike in heart disease and is concerned about its potential to be a gateway drug.
Following lawmakers' speeches, the Heritage Foundation has organized a panel discussion with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, leaders from the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Children's Center and others.
Related: How Will GOP Congress Approach D.C. Marijuana Legalization? House GOP Moves to Kill ‘Poorly Done’ D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization Law How High Is John Fleming’s Interest in Blocking D.C. Pot Decriminalization? (Audio) Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.