UPDATED: July 3, 2014 2:25 p.m.
WASHINGTON (WNEW/AP) — The mayor of the District of Columbia and a nonprofit group are urging city residents to boycott the Eastern Shore of Maryland this holiday weekend, because of its congressional representative’s efforts to overturn the city’s decision to decriminalize marijuana.
The action by Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Vote is aimed at Rep. Andy Harris, who represents Maryland’s Eastern Shore, after he successfully attached an amendment to a House budget bill aimed at the city’s marijuana law.
“I don’t think we should support someone who doesn’t support us, who doesn’t support democracy, period,” Gray said.
Harris said city residents “know better” than to boycott his district.
“Spending the weekend on the beautiful family-friendly Eastern Shore is more important than increasing drug use by DC teenagers,” Harris said in a statement.
Kimberly Perry, the director of DC Vote, said the people of the District have nothing against the people of Ocean City or in any other place in Harris’ district.
“We hope they understand that the dictatorial action of their representative — along with our lack of a voting representative in Congress — leaves supporters of democracy with few options to respond to his unwarranted attack on DC’s local autonomy,” Perry said in a statement.
The amendment sponsored by Harris would prohibit the District from using local funds to decriminalize marijuana. Harris argued during a committee work session that children often use marijuana as a gateway drug.
Harris called the $25 fine that would be imposed for simple possession in the District is too low and said the law would lead to a spike in drug use among young people. Harris, a physician, said marijuana has been shown to harm the developing brain.
“Whether you’re 12 or 40, the fine is $25. In fact, if you’re 12 and possess a cigarette, the fine is $50 in D.C.,” Harris said. “That’s just plain bad policy. This is the opportunity to stop that bad policy from going forward.”
Opponents of the amendment said Harris was inappropriately meddling in local affairs, noting that Maryland is among the 17 states that have decriminalized pot. Lawmakers in the heavily Democratic district pushed decriminalization as a way to end what studies have shown are huge racial disparities in the way pot laws are enforced in the city.
“It just doesn’t seem right that the Eastern Shore of Maryland should be able to reach over into D.C. and make laws for D.C.,” said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. “It’s not the way this country is supposed to function.”
The city’s bill is now under a 60-day congressional review. It is expected to take effect in mid-July. It would impose a civil fine of $25 and no criminal penalty on those possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The District is represented in Congress by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate. All locally passed laws must be sent to Congress for review and approval.
D.C. Marijuana Law Key Points
- Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense. A possession charged had carried a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
- Possession of an ounce or less is now a civil offense punishable by a fine of $25.
- Maximum penalty for smoking marijuana in public becomes 60 days in jail and $500 fine. Previously, the charge had carried a penalty of up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.
- Individuals now protected from detainment, frisking, searching, and arrest based solely on possession of an ounce or less or based on the smell of marijuana.
- Growing, sale, and possession of over an ounce of marijuana remain criminal offenses.
- No change to existing driving under the influence law.
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