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Andy Harris-marijuana activist feud is as petty as it is pointless

The feud between marijuana legalization advocates and Rep. Andy Harris has gone too far. It has become petty and pointless, and it reflects poorly on both sides.

There is a real issue at stake – not just whether recreational use of marijuana should be legal but whether Dr. Harris overstepped by working to block implementation the decision by Washington, D.C.’s voters to allow it. Using Congress’ authority over the District, he has been the leading force in attaching language to the federal budget to prevent it from creating a structure and promulgating regulations for sale of the drug. Congress has the power to do that, but as we argued at the time that he first took that step, it should not exercise its will in direct opposition to a popular referendum on what has been treated as a local matter elsewhere. Why shouldn’t residents of the nation’s capital be allowed to make the same decisions for themselves that voters in states like California and Colorado can? We’re not ardent marijuana legalization advocates by any means, but we agree that he’s wrong on that one.

Here’s the thing, though: Dr. Harris’ opinions on the issue no longer matter much. Since the new Congress took office this year, he has been in the minority in the House, and he no longer has the kind of power he once did to slip that provision into federal budget language. The Democrats who now control the House have dropped it.

So why do some D.C. marijuana advocates continue to aggressively protest (as they see it) or stalk (as he sees it) Dr. Harris? Shouldn’t they be busy figuring out who the swing votes on the D.C. budget language might be in the Senate?

We can promise you, Dr. Harris is not going to change his mind on this, or pretty much anything, no matter how right or (usually, in our view) wrong he may be. He has always been thus, and for reasons that escape us, the voters of the 1st District like it. He easily beat an extremely credible, attractive and well-funded Democrat in Jesse Colvin last year, capturing 60 percent of the vote, and given the political leanings of the Eastern Shore, no sane redistricting plan is going to make him easy to beat. (A non-gerrymandered map may not include his Cockeysville house in the district, but that would pose no legal barrier to his continued representation of the district.)

Persisting in heckling Dr. Harris or staging elaborate protests like the one last fall that left both sides claiming physical injuries and led to the arrest of some advocates for smoking marijuana in the hall outside Dr. Harris’ office shows this is no longer about achieving a policy goal, it's about taunting an elected official the advocates dislike. They have every right to engage in peaceful protest, but their tactics and target diminish the seriousness of their purpose.

Dr. Harris isn’t on the side of the angels here either. We get that he’s seriously annoyed by the protesters’ tactics, and we take him at is word that he was genuinely concerned for his safety in the aforementioned confrontation outside his office. But does he really need to pick an argument in a public hearing about whether one activist’s daughter should be attending a prestigious D.C. public school after he established residency on the Eastern Shore in order to vote in the 1st District?

More seriously, did he need to make a criminal case out of the unauthorized livestreaming of a meeting in his Salisbury office by a college student? Jake Burdett, a 20-year-old who attends Salisbury University, broadcast a meeting with Harris staffers on Facebook Live after they had told him and other participants about an office rule against taking photos or videos. He was not aware that making audio or video recordings without both parties’ consent is illegal in Maryland, and when he found out, he apologized and took the video down. That should have been the end of it. Instead, Mr. Burdett found himself criminally charged and eventually received probation before judgment. It was, of course, the State Prosecutor’s Office and not Dr. Harris who brought the charges, but we have little doubt that it would never have gone so far had the congressman objected.

The right of citizens to peaceful protest and the ability of elected officials to resist popular will when they believe it’s necessary are two critical hallmarks of our system of government. Neither side in this fight is serving as a credit to them.

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