Last October, the cannabis legalization advocacy group Maryland Marijuana Justice organized a protest outside of state Rep. Andy Harris’s congressional office in Salisbury. Six months earlier, ex-Colorado residents Adam Eidinger and Kris Furnish founded the group to accomplish one primary object: remove Rep. Andy Harris, a politician the group calls “one of the worst concerning cannabis reform laws,” from Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.
20-year-old Jake Burdett, a student at Salisbury University, attended the October protest. It brought him face to face with one of Rep. Harris’s staffers, an encounter the young activist briefly livestreamed on Facebook Live. And on Valentine’s Day, Burdett was charged with multiple felony wiretapping charges for recording and posting that meeting online for a day. The charges brought against Burdett were filed by Rep. Harris’ office.
Maryland Marijuana Justice Demonstrator Faces Felony Charges for Livestreaming a Meeting
These days, members of the cannabis advocacy group Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ) are a regular fixture outside Maryland’s Congressional offices. The group has been organizing demonstrations and protests to support cannabis reform efforts and challenge the lawmakers opposing them. Lawmakers like Republican state Rep. Andy Harris, who in 2014 worked to block the full legalization of marijuana in D.C.
Rep. Harris has been in the news recently. Not for his opposition to drug reform, but for a meeting he took with white supremacist and Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson, who Twitter banned for threatening the Baltimore civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson. But Maryland Marijuana Justice want the press surrounding Jake Burdett’s indictment to stay focused on Harris’ views on cannabis, not just his racist scandals.
MDMJ activists have long-protested Harris’ backwards views on cannabis and refusals to meet with cannabis reform advocates. At the October protest, Burdett was streaming to Facebook Live. When one of Harris’ congressional staffers offered to meet with a handful of demonstrators, Burdett made the cut and kept the camera running for a short while into the meeting.
But Burdett didn’t obtain the staffer’s consent to film inside the office where the meeting was occurring. He didn’t know he had to. Or that it wasn’t just illegal, but a felony to film the staffer without permission. Burdett found out it was illegal the next day and immediately took down the video. He also personally apologized to the staffer. But Congressman Harris threw the book at him anyway. And on February 15, prosecutors charged Burdett with felony wiretapping.
Maryland Rep. Andy Harris Keeps Calling the Cops on Marijuana Justice Activists
This isn’t the first time Andy Harris has gone after marijuana reform activists demonstrating outside his office. At a MDMJ protest last year, Harris had Rachel Donlan arrested for “bruising his wrist.” Prosecutors later charged Donlan with consumption of marijuana in a prohibited public space—i.e., being high in public. Donlan filed a complaint against Harris herself, alleging Harris slammed a door on her leg.
For MDMJ, Rep. Harris’ recent effort to make an example out of Mr. Burdett “shows how partisan and petty Congressman Harris has become,” the organization said in a press release. “Rep. Harris wants to pretend to be victimized by a 20 year old’s deleted livestream, while he supports the racist war on drugs that actually victimizes thousands of people a day by locking them up for the victimless crime of smoking marijuana, a non-addictive substance with many medicinal benefits.”
The group also pointed out that while Rep. Harris has been smearing cannabis reform activists and vehemently opposing legalization, he has accepted $42,200 from the pharmaceutical lobby in the 2017-2018 election cycle alone.
Burdett’s plea deal will require him to complete community service and go on probation. But if Burdett complies with court orders for three years, the case will be dropped. For his part, Burdett said he is upset that citizens and constituents are not allowed to record conversations with public officials’ paid staffers in a taxpayer-funded space.