D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) began to ratchet down her confrontation with conservatives in Congress in her first nationally televised interview after she rebuffed warnings from House Republicans and legalized marijuana.
Bowser had said on Wednesday that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the head of the powerful House Oversight Committee, should stop “bullying” the District over a voter-approved ballot measure. She suggested instead that Chaffetz should focus on “his job,” including passing a budget deal to keep the Department of Homeland Security from shutting down.
But in an appearance late Thursday on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, Bowser never once mentioned Chaffetz by name and turned attention away from House Republican leadership, who could make her life difficult as mayor. Instead, the mayor returned the discussion over D.C. autonomy to a more familiar congressional bogeyman: Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris.
“We have been especially antagonized by Representative Andy Harris,” Bowser said, beginning to explain the District’s now tortured legalization law. The drug is legal to possess, grow, share, carry, and in private, smoke, but selling and purchasing remain illegal – largely because of Harris.
Harris was the one who convinced colleagues on the House Appropriations committee last year to seek a spending prohibition against letting D.C. loosen its marijuana laws. Most of Harris’s so called spending “rider” found its way into a massive budget bill passed and signed by the president in December.
Harris and other conservatives contended that the measure legally prevented D.C. from enacting Initiative 71, the ballot measure approved a month earlier by seven in 10 D.C. voters. Bowser and other D.C. politicians took a different interpretation and said it only prevented the District from moving forward and passing additional legislation to sell and tax the drug.
“It was complicated by Andy Harris,” Bowser said, repeating his name.
An e-mail to Harris’s spokeswoman after the 9 p.m. airing of the Maddow show was not immediately returned.
As she had a day earlier in a news conference, Bowser also left open room to rebuild a dialogue with House Republicans, saying the legal debate about the scope of the rider was one where “reasonable people” could disagree.
“This is an issue where some people feel very strongly at the Congress, and they are speaking loudly, but our residents also spoke loud and clear last November,” Bowser said. “I’m the mayor. I was elected, and my job was to implement the people’s law. The people changed the law.”
Maddow introduced Bowser, 42, as the “spunky new mayor” of the District. Compared to Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon that have also legalized marijuana, and have or plan to allow legal sales, Maddow said congressional restrictions made the city, by comparison, a “tiny, beleaguered non-state.”
In the absence of a legal way to buy pot in D.C., but with home cultivation now allowed, Maddow mused that gardeners could ascend to new social orbits in the nation’s capital, which, on a screen behind her, was illuminated in green.
“People who can garden . . . grow things out of dirt, those people are about to be more socially in demand than anybody else,” Maddow said.
Bowser said the District's plight could be changed if allowed to become the 51st state.
— a prospect that still has virtually no chance in Congress.
“The answer for us, of course, is statehood so that Americans who live and pay taxes in the District of Columbia can have a voting member of Congress,” she said.