Republican primary voters are castigating Maryland congressman Andy Harris for meddling in the District of Columbia’s cannabis laws. A new poll shows his opponent Michael Smigiel winning 58% to 29% among GOP voters. The survey of 616 registered Republicans in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District also found that 59% of respondents said they would be “less likely” to vote for Harris because of his fight against marijuana law reform.
“He says federal law trumps state law,” said Smigiel in a recent interview with Washingtonian magazine. “That’s absolutely wrong. Even though Congress looks over what the District does, the voters went to the polls.”
Smigiel is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates who says he “was in the backroom” among a bipartisan group of lawmakers in creating his state’s new marijuana decriminalization law. Smigiel has also voted in favor of medical marijuana legislation.
Andy Harris led the charge in a failed attempt by Congress to overrule voters who overwhelmingly approved a 2014 initiative allowing non-commercial cannabis cultivation and consumption by adults in the District of Columbia. Congressional leaders have inserted riders authored by Harris in subsequent federal spending bills seeking to prevent the government of the District of Columbia from spending funds to enact further legislation related to cannabis policy. House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) even threatened to have DC’s mayor arrested if she allowed marijuana prohibition to expire.
Initiative 71 co-author and DC Cannabis Campaign chairman Adam Eidinger said that the campaign’s “legalization without commercialization” strategy left Congress powerless to stop District residents. DC Attorney General Karl Racine added that Congress could not retroactively prevent Initiative 71 — which achieved over 70% support on Election Day — from becoming law.
Although Harris was elected as part of the anti-big government Tea Party groundswell of 2010, he has faced tough criticism for attempting to use the power of the federal government to overturn the will of citizens that he doesn’t represent.
Justin Robinson, founder of Not Your District PAC, says the new poll shows Harris’ own constituents are rejecting his “hypocrisy” over states’ rights.
Harris pushed discredited “gateway drug” falsehoods about marijuana to defend his intervention into DC’s affairs, claiming that his district representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore doesn’t “have the kind of drug abuse problem that DC has” on a local TV broadcast.
However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere disputes the picture that Harris tried to paint of DC residents. CDC statistics show that Maryland is one of several states suffering from a rapid increase in fatalities related to the nation’s growing opiate epidemic.
Deaths from opiates, including both prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like heroin, recently outpaced auto accidents as a cause of death in the United States. The CDC says these opiates now account for 61% of all drug overdose fatalities nationwide.
The Talbot Partnership for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention tallied 53 deaths related to heroin and prescription opiates in Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2013. This represents a rate of 11.8 deaths among 100,000 residents in Harris’ district.
The CDC counted 102 deaths from all drug overdoses in the District of Columbia during 2013. Assuming 61% of these deaths were opiate related, then approximately 62 DC residents would have died from opiate related causes in 2013. This would represent a rate of 9.6 opiate-related fatalities per 100,000 residents in the District of Columbia.
Furthermore, CDC data shows that overall drug overdose fatalities actually decreased 5.3% in the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2014, while the state of Maryland saw a “statistically significant” increase of 19.2% over the same period.
So why is Maryland congressman Andy Harris peddling fictional problems about cannabis in the District of Columbia while he ignores the deadly opiate crisis afflicting his own district?
The truth is that Andy Harris has received generous support from a pharmaceutical industry that feels threatened by medical cannabis.
In fact, his second largest donor in the 2014 election cycle is a company called Emergent BioSolutions. This firm produces a topical drug called “Episil” that treats oral pain that often accompanies cancer chemotherapy.
Blogger Matthew Segal argues that cannabis “is a huge combatant against many of the deleterious effects of cancer and chemotherapy, and thus a hugely disruptive threat to Emergent’s business model.”
Segal cites the National Cancer Institute’s endorsement of research showing that medical cannabis can improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy, stimulate appetite and provide pain relief.
“In other words,” says Segal, “Emergent, one of Harris’ biggest donors, has a vested interest in lobbying aggressively against legal cannabis.”
Michael Smigiel’s focus on repealing marijuana prohibition is helping to turn the tide against our nation’s opiate epidemic.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.” Legal cannabis is providing an alternative to prescription opiates that have for far too many become an effective gateway to heroin addiction.
Smigiel and Harris face off April 26 in Maryland’s primary contest.
— Zack Pesavento is the President of 420 USA