News & Politics

The Maryland Congressman Who Messed With DC’s Marijuana Reform Could Be Replaced By a Pro-Pot Republican

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris falsely argued DC is still Maryland's land

What could it cost Representative Andy Harris to be Congress’s leading voice against DC’s legalization of marijuana? Perhaps his career in national politics, according to a new poll of primary voters in the conservative Republican’s Maryland district which shows him losing badly to one of his three challengers.

Michael Smigiel, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from the Eastern Shore, nabbed 58 percent in the poll taken last week, with Harris only pulling in half as much support at 29 percent. And Harris, who was first elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, appears to have lost favor with his constituents precisely because of his attempts to derail DC’s decriminalization and later legalization of marijuana—59 percent of those surveyed said that Harris’s meddling in a local jurisdiction’s affairs made them less likely to vote for him.

“He says federal law trumps state law,” Smigiel says in a phone interview. “That’s absolutely wrong. Even though Congress looks over what the District does, the voters went to the polls.”

District residents voted overwhelmingly in November 2014 to legalize the possession of up to two ounces of pot and home cultivation of as many as six cannabis plants. But legislation approved by the GOP-controlled Congress, which has the final say in what DC can do with its laws and local budget, prevented the city from creating a taxed-and-regulated scheme similar to the lucrative marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington state. Still, the immediate effects of legalization have been profound: the Metropolitan Police Department reports that marijuana-related arrests have fallen by 80 percent since 2010, with just 70 arrests for distribution (still illegal) and 164 for possession with intent to distribute (also still illegal) last year.

Unlike Harris, a medical doctor who believes marijuana is a “gateway drug,” Smigiel has a pro-pot record. As a delegate, he cosponsored Maryland’s 2014 decriminalization bill with Montgomery County Democrat Heather Mizeur and also voted to allow medical marijuana.

Harris’s marijuana grandstanding—which he has said he would export to Colorado, Washington state, and Alaska if a Republican were US attorney general—sparked calls in DC for boycotts of his district, which includes Maryland’s tourist-heavy beaches. The boycott threats were led by DC Vote, which advocates for the District to have a full congressional delegation, and Not Your District PAC, a pro-statehood organization that is raising money to target Harris.

“The situation he created is intolerable,” Smigiel says.

The survey, which Smigiel’s campaign commissioned, was conducted by Gravis Marketing, a non-partisan firm based in Florida, and queried 616 registered Republican voters in Maryland’s First District over January 7 and 8.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.