WASHINGTON — The controversy over decriminalizing marijuana is turning into a heated battle between two local leaders with differing approaches to drug laws.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has been a vocal proponent of decriminalizing marijuana in the District, and signed a bill in March that would make small amounts of pot punishable by a $25 fine.
But Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican, introduced a budget measure in June that would block funding for the law.
“I don’t normally get involved in D.C. activities, but when they make that bad of a decision… I felt I had to do something,” he says.
Speaking on WTOP Thursday morning, Harris, a physician, argued that decriminalizing marijuana would only fuel teen use in the District.
“This is not about D.C. home rule,” he says. “This is about increasing the use of drugs and marijuana among teenagers.”
In response to Harris’ amendment, Gray encouraged D.C. residents to avoid visiting the Eastern Shore this summer.
“I don’t think we should support someone who doesn’t support us, who doesn’t support democracy, period,” Gray said at a news conference Wednesday.
He added that Harris’ actions are “hypocrisy at its worst.”
But Harris insists that his primary concern is for the young people of D.C., whose physiology could be changed if they abuse marijuana at an early age. Citing “scientific studies,” Harris says that a teens IQ can actually be lowered later in life by drug abuse during their formative years.
A 2013 study published in Frontiers medical journal suggests that early marijuana use among teens could lead to “severe cognitive consequences” in their adult years, including “significantly poorer sustained attention, cognitive inhibition, and abstract reasoning.”
The findings were consistent with alcohol abuse in teens.
A local group, DC Vote, is calling for a full boycott of Maryland.
“Rep. Harris has violated fundamental American rights of self-determination and local control by using the District to advance his own political fortunes. He has acted in wanton disregard for the views of the citizens of DC, who elect their own local representatives who are accountable to the voters,” DC Vote says in a statement.
A spokesman for Gray says the mayor is not suggesting D.C. residents avoid the Eastern Shore, but rather be “mindful of where they spend their hard earned dollars.”
Harris encouraged all beach lovers to continue visiting Maryland.
“I think the residents of D.C. know better, Harris says in an email.
“Spending the weekend on the beautiful family-friendly Eastern Shore is more important than increasing drug use by D.C. teenagers.”
Click on the audio file to hear Harris’ interview with WTOP.