D.C. residents urged to boycott Md. shore to protest congressman’s marijuana move

If you’re a District resident planning to vacation in the Maryland havens of Ocean City or St. Michaels this summer, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and some D.C. activists would prefer you choose Rehoboth Beach, Del., or Chincoteague Island, Va., instead.

A week after Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) successfully attached an amendment to a House budget bill that would overturn the city’s marijuana decriminalization law, Gray and the District’s largest voting-rights advocacy group said city residents would be better off vacationing somewhere besides Harris’s district, which includes all of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“I don’t think we should support someone who doesn’t support us, who doesn’t support democracy, period,” the mayor said Wednesday after a news conference at which he decried Harris’s actions as “hypocrisy at its worst.”

The nonprofit group D.C. Vote called for an all-out boycott of vacation spots in the 1st Congressional District, saying Harris “acted in wanton disregard” of the views of D.C. residents. A January Washington Post poll found that roughly eight in 10 city residents support legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

“If you care about D.C. equality, we ask you to not patronize vacation destinations in Rep. Harris’ district,” Executive Director Kimberly Perry said in a statement. “We might not be able to vote in Congress, but we can all vote with our wallets.”

In a statement issued by his office, Harris said city residents “know better” than to boycott his district’s beauty spots. “Spending the weekend on the beautiful, family friendly Eastern Shore is more important than increasing drug use by D.C. teenagers,” he said.

In response to Gray’s comments, Harris spokesman Chris Meekins made a reference to Gray’s April 1 primary loss: “I think D.C. voters showed on Election Day the value they place on what the mayor has to say. I only wish some D.C. politicians cared as much about providing a quality education to D.C. students as they do about decriminalizing marijuana.”

Gray suggested that those D.C. residents who do visit Harris’s district might consider activities beyond sunbathing: “If they . . . happen to picket places that he may frequent or picket his office or whatever, I wouldn’t be averse to that at all.”

“I think people should do whatever action moves them, and that is to let him know how undemocratic this is and that he ought to work on the business of his district,” Gray added, responding to the suggestion that Maryland business owners might take exception to Harris’s actions affecting District residents.

Eastern Shore tourism officials were not enthused about the idea of a boycott.

“There’s got to be a better way to hit Andy Harris where he’s going to feel it,” said Lisa Challenger, tourism director for Worcester County, home to Ocean City. “We’ve got lots and lots of mom-and-pop businesses that are privately owned. . . . I understand what D.C. officials are trying to say and do, but it doesn’t make any sense to us local folks here on the front line trying to increase revenues and get visitors here.”

“My initial reaction is, we welcome visitors regardless of their political leanings,” said Cassandra Vanhooser, executive director of the tourism office in Talbot County, home to St. Michaels, Tilghman Island and other Chesapeake Bay destinations. “Everybody’s money is green.”

D.C. Vote said it had contacted local officials in Harris’s district, informing them that the call for a boycott “is in no way a commentary on their communities” and that “a similar attack on their local jurisdictions’ laws would never be tolerated.”

The group suggested “numerous alternate vacation spots in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia that are represented by members of Congress who respect the people of the District, and the laws passed by their duly-elected representatives.”

The Harris amendment would ban the D.C. government from spending any funds on efforts to lessen penalties for Schedule I federal drug crimes. The measure would get in the way not only of the decriminalization law, which is expected to take effect later this month, but also of a possible legalization ballot initiative.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 28 to 21 to attach the Harris amendment to the appropriations bill under consideration by the lower chamber. A Senate companion bill is unlikely to carry a similar restriction, and it will be up to conferees from each chamber to determine whether the amendment ends up in a compromise bill that could go into effect this fall.

Gray said he has no plans to lobby in Harris’s district: “That’s a long trip. Probably would be better to visit his office here.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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