Activists from the District of Columbia crowded the hallway outside Rep. Andy Harris' office on Thursday to lobby the Maryland Republican for help with local issues.
They say Harris should welcome their thoughts and concerns, given his keen interest in D.C.'s drug policy. The "DC Constituent Service Day" staged by DC Vote was organized a week after the House passed a spending bill that included a measure Harris proposed to target the District's marijuana decriminalization law .
"This is a porta-potty outside my house," said Ramin Catirai, a 31-year-old who lives near the intersection of 11th and T streets in Northwest D.C. "It's been there for about two weeks," he said, offering a black-and-white photo of the sidewalk outside his front door. "You can smell it." Catirai and about 20 other residents hung out for more than an hour in the fifth floor hallway of the Longworth House Office Building, waiting to see the congressman — who was not available. Some circulated colorful cards on a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana that will likely be on the November ballot. Capitol Police responded to the scene minutes after the protest started, ordering protesters to keep the walkway clear and the noise under control.
Inside the office, Harris' staff fielded meeting requests and questions about whether the physician elected to represent Maryland's 1st District in 2010 would be interested in moving out of Cockeysville to run for a D.C. Council seat. DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry accused the congressman of "trampling on our rights," and pleaded for some face time with Harris.
"I appreciate the concern," responded chief of staff Kevin Reigrut.
In addition to the protest, DC Vote has promoted a boycott of Eastern Shore vacation destinations. It is promoting the boycott with Facebook ads , which have drawn rebukes from Maryland residents. Pranksters have created a website trumpeting Harris' council campaign.
Reigrut told CQ Roll Call on Thursday that the office would not be making any statements.
Harris has called the marijuana policy "poorly done" and said his chief concern is that the law does not refer teenagers caught with the drug for treatment. He also opposes Maryland's decriminalization measure, which requires those younger than 21 to appear in court. He says the Constitution treats D.C. and Maryland differently , allowing members of Congress to push local policies in D.C.
"I offered him, you know, the opportunity to run for city council because that's the best way to effectively work within the District," said G. Malik Burnett, policy manager for national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, minutes after exiting the office. "They didn't respond to that."
If enacted, Harris' marijuana rider could leave D.C. law enforcement in legal limbo. It would prohibit funds in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations measure from being used to carry out laws that reduce penalties associated with Schedule 1 drugs used for recreational purposes, potentially eliminating all penalties.
The measure didn't make the Senate's draft spending bill released Thursday. The White House has also threatened to veto the measure. Despite long odds for the bill, protesters said they want to keep the pressure on the congressman.
"I don't think the rider is becoming law — ever," said Adam Eidinger, a prominent pot legalization strategist in the District. "I don't believe that. We are going to fight this, and if he believes he'll be re-elected after succeeding on [the] rider, he has another thing coming. I will move to his district to run against him."