Adam Eidinger may be Washington’s best-known cannabis crusader. He led a successful campaign to decriminalize possession and private use of small amounts of pot. He held a smoke-in outside the White House that featured a 51-foot replica of a joint. And he’s been arrested nearly two dozen times.
But Eidinger says he reached the limit of what he can do as a resident of the District of Columbia.
Which is why he has moved to Maryland, where he wants to oust Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., the staunch anti-statehood lawmaker known for blocking full legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington.
Eidinger is backing Allison Galbraith, one of four Democrats competing to challenge Harris, who is seeking a fifth term in November. The 44-year-old activist is renting a three-bedroom townhouse in downtown Salisbury, Maryland, which he’ll use as a base for a volunteer-driven effort to register 10,000 voters.
“Politics has turned on you, now you have to turn on politics,” Eidinger said, explaining his pitch to would-be voters. “We need to go to the districts of the congressmen who are hurting us and become part of their community, that’s the consequence.”
But Eidinger’s relocation could come at a personal cost.
To register to vote in Maryland, Eidinger declared Salisbury his primary residence – a move that could jeopardize his daughter’s eligibility to attend public schools in Washington.
His daughter currently attends Oyster-Adams middle school and was offered a spot next year at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a nationally recognized incubator of theatrical talent and one of the city’s most sought-after public schools.
It also happens to be at the center of a widespread enrollment fraud probe that initially uncovered suspicious residency claims among more than half of 100 student records under review.
District law requires parents to sign a statement swearing the enrollment of their child in Washington public schools is based on their “bona fide DC residency, including this sworn statement of physical presence and my presentation of residency verification documentation.”
Families that commit residency fraud may be fined the cost of tuition – about $12,000 a year – and the student may be removed from the school.
Eidinger says that even though his primary residence is now in Maryland, he continues to own a home in Washington, where he said his daughter lives most of the time. That should enable her to remain in D.C. public schools, he said.
A spokeswoman for D.C. public schools declined to comment on Eidinger’s situation.
“If the city notified me and said you can’t put your kid in school here anymore I’d go to court, he said. “It may not be my primary residency, but it is my residence.”
His current schedule puts him in Washington three days a week and Salisbury four days a week, but as his political commitments ramp up next year he will tap his friends and family to care for his daughter in Washington so he can spend more time in Maryland. His ex-wife, who lives in Virginia, also cares for the girl much of the time, he said.
“Ralph Nader inspired me to do this,” he said of the consumer protection crusader who Eidinger said lives in the city but maintains a residence elsewhere. “Lots of people live in Washington but don’t give up their residency.”
Eidinger sold his stake in his business, Capitol Hemp, in December, enabling him to afford two homes. He is social action director for Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, where he has worked since 2001.
“I feel a little bit privileged to do this,” he said. “I’m using my privilege for social change.”
Eidinger said his daughter understands the importance of standing up for one’s values and said she’s looking forward to spending time with him in Salisbury this summer.
“I’ve been arrested 22 times, I’m lucky they let me keep her,” he joked.
Last week he tweeted photos of himself registering to vote in Maryland, where residents simply have to declare that their primary residence is within the state to register to vote.
“It’s really not defined in election law,” said Mary Wagner, director of voter registration for the state election board. “It’s whether you choose to say, under penalty of perjury, you live where you’re registered to vote.”
Harris, an anesthesiologist who specializes in obstetrics, represents a rural, conservative district and is the lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation.
His campaign did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
The decriminalization of marijuana made Harris and Eidinger folk heroes to their respective supporters.
In October 2012, D.C. police raided two Capitol Hemp stores co-owned by Eidinger, arrested six employees and seized $350,000 worth of glassware from the shops, arguing they were violating the city’s drug laws.
To get their merchandise back and avoid prosecution, Eidinger and his partner agreed to close the shops. But the experience made Eidinger a champion in the fight to legalize marijuana in the nation’s capital.
More than two years later, a citywide vote, known as Initiative 71, legalized possession of up to two ounces for Washington residents and visitors over the age of 21. It also allowed for home cultivation of six plants, possession of marijuana paraphernalia and sharing of the drug.
But before it took effect, Harris spearheaded a measure that stopped the city from enacting any future rules to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana.
At the time, Harris likened the proliferation of medical pot to telling patients to chew on mold instead of taking penicillin.
Eidinger has needled Harris ever since, once prompting Harris to tell him: “If you don’t like it, move to a state, Adam,” according to Eidinger.
He did just that this month when he became the newest resident of Salisbury, population 30,343. He even added a patch to his trademark red cap: the Maryland state flag.