DC’s Cannabis Confusion Could Be Solved by Maryland Voters

Congressional candidate Allison Galbraith, above, filed to run against Rep. Andy Harris because of his stand on healthcare issues, not cannabis. But the 'Harris Rider' that keeps DC from regulating legal cannabis may go away if he loses his seat. (Courtesy of Allison Galbraith)

When Allison Galbraith of Bel Air, Maryland, went to discuss health care with her congressional representative, she expected a warmer reception. She had arranged a meeting with Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland’s First District, to explain her past difficulties obtaining affordable insurance coverage.

“I went to Harris and I explained that I couldn’t buy insurance before the [Affordable Care Act] because I had a complicating pregnancy and women were charged 30% to 80% more,” she said in a recent interview. At the time, Congress was considering a plan that would have done away with the ACA, and patients across the country were concerned.

Rep. Andy Harris 'told me he didn’t think most people would mind if women paid more for health insurance.' So Allison Galbraith filed to run against him.

“I asked him to vote against anything that allowed for gender discrimination,” Galbraith said, “and he told me he didn’t think most people would mind if women paid more for health insurance.”

Outraged by the response, the single mother and small-business owner decided to take matters into her own hands. She filed campaign paperwork and is now running to take Harris’s seat in Congress. But besides her ambition to expand access to health insurance, Galbraith has also promised to take action on another hot-button issue: cannabis.

Among legalization advocates in Washington, DC, incumbent Harris is infamous for an amendment he attached to a 2014 federal spending bill. It effectively hamstrings legalization in their city. Voters passed Initiative 71 in November 2014 to legalize cannabis in the District, but the so-called Andy Harris rider, signed about a month afterward, effectively blocked commercial sales by preventing the DC Council from adopting comprehensive regulations.

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The Harris Rule: Homegrown Only

Ever since, DC has been a homegrow-only jurisdiction. Residents 21 and over can cultivate up to six plants at home, and up to an ounce can be given as a gift to another adult. Sales, testing, and features common to other legal states, however, remain forbidden.

In campaigning to replace Harris, Galbraith has said she would “absolutely” repeal the Harris rider. “I trust in DC’s ability to make laws for itself,” she told Leafly. “Congress should be recognizing and upholding its rights.”

Galbraith called Harris’s efforts to restrict cannabis outside his home state undemocratic. “The rider is a huge contradiction to the ideas of states’ rights and small government,” she said. “It’s bad enough Harris isn’t representing his own constituants, but he’s got to then go and interfere in what DC wants to do, too.”

The pledge to undo the Harris rider has won Galbraith the support of a number of DC cannabis activists. Some are now banding together to support her campaign. “What some of us are doing is moving to the First District and getting a house together,” said RachelRamone Donlan, a cannabis and women’s rights activist in the capital. “Some are gonna stay and become registered voters there, and we’re going to canvass for Allison.”

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‘We need to remove Andy Harris’

Donlan is part of the activist organization DCMJ, which has organized protests and other actions to raise awareness of the issue. “If we can’t remove the Andy Harris rider, we need to remove Andy Harris,” she said. “We need to focus to bring sales to DC and show that this is going to help bring money into the community and bring peace and comfort to people who want to use for whatever reason.”

“I want to get to the root of the issue, which is that it’s classified incorrectly under the Controlled Substances Act.”
Allison Galbraith, Congressional candidate

Another DC activist, Uneeda Nichols, said supporters are planning to travel to Maryland to collect petitions and drum up support for Galbraith. “We’re 100% going to support Allison in any way we can,” she said. “If that means we’ve got go out on foot, that’s what we’re going to do. She’s totally great. We need more young people like her.”

Galbraith doesn’t want to stop at DC. She’s also a voice for cannabis reform at the federal level. “The arrests would stop if the federal law would change and you just made marijuana outright legal,” she said. “I want to get to the root of the issue, which is that it’s classified incorrectly under the Controlled Substances Act.”

Half Measures Not Good Enough

Though Harris has voiced support for easing restrictions on cannabis research in the past, Galbraith considers these efforts half measures. “I support recreational marijuana and outright legalization with some regulations,” she said. “I see restricting [reforms] to medical marijuana or research and development as an end-run by ‘Big Pharma’ on patent rights.”

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Despite growing grassroots support, Galbraith has a tough fight ahead in both the primary and general elections. Harris, who’s held the seat since 2010, has handily won every election since then. In his most recent contest, in 2016, he carried 67% of the vote. Galbraith, meanwhile, is a political outsider running a campaign financed by small donations and fueled by volunteers. She has refused to accept money from corporate donors to pay for radio and TV ads, instead focusing more on digital and social media.

Galbraith believes this strategy benefits her campaign over her competitors’. “It’s not that I won’t use traditional media,” she said, “but I just happen to be light years ahead of everyone else in social media, and I’m basically untouchable in that domain. It’s effective and it also happens to be cheap.” On Galbraith’s campaign Twitter page, she currently has nearly 25,000 followers. Her main Democratic opponent, Jesse Colvin, has less than 1,000.

Despite her social media edge, however, Galbraith is currently behind other candidates in the money race, which can be a strong predictor of success. She’s raised just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by both Harris and the leading Democratic contender, Jesse Colvin, according to Federal Election Commission finance numbers available through the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Galbraith is undaunted. She’s confident her straightforward, commonsense approach will resonate with voters in the district. “We’re going talk to everybody and listen to their concerns. That’s what a representative’s job is,” she said. “And I look for areas where we can agree with people, instead of things to fight about.”