It's time to end the war on drugs in North Carolina

It's hard to understand why Governor McCrory and Republicans in the General Assembly are spending their time and our money "fixing" things that aren't broken instead of looking for opportunities to lead our state forward. Eight other states already have industrial hemp laws in place, and are poised to capitalize on this new cash crop. Many more have already cut their enormous costs of incarceration for minor drug offenders. Meanwhile, our legislature is doubling down on putting more of our fellow citizens in jail.

America's war on drugs has failed in every imaginable way. Changes in marijuana laws alone could save our nation more than $40 billion each year. For North Carolina, that translates into big bucks. We're currently spending hundreds of millions to achieve absolutely nothing.

Industrial hemp could be even more important to our state's economy. Industry groups have produced estimates ranging upwards of $500 billion annually for industrial hemp on a global basis. We need to find a way to participate in this growing economy.


Noted UNC economist, Dr. Art Benavie, knows what he's talking about when it comes to the war on drugs. His latest book uncovers the war's absurdity at all levels of analysis. According to Dr. Benavie, prosecuting the war on drugs cost more than $70 billion dollars in 2008, while producing virtually no reduction in drug use or related crime.

To get a glimpse of what this means on the streets of North Carolina in 2010, we asked the team at in Wilmington if they could help us understand the costs of the war in New Hanover County. Here's the response they received by email from Charles Smith, of the New Hanover County Sheriff's Department.

I’m sure these numbers are not going to be as helpful as you wish but they are budget numbers for the Detention Facility and Vice & Narcotics Divisions. Obviously, the jail is used for other purposes than the war on drugs. The figures below represent salaries, operating and capital expenses.

  • Detention yearly operating budget - $ 14,903,167.00
  • Vice & narcotics yearly operating budget - $1,914,485.00

The percentage of people nationwide in prison for drug offenses has been around 25% for years now. Assuming it's similar for New Hanover County, that means approximately $3.7 million is being spent in this one county to lock up drug offenders. And that's just incarceration costs.

Extend that finding across all of North Carolina and that the cost of the war on drugs to NC taxpayers today easily exceeds $500 million a year. And that doesn't even begin to address related crime that comes with drug offenses: gang violence, robbery, and domestic violence.

America's war on drugs is failed public policy at its worst. It suppresses person freedom. It prevents us from taking advantage of enormous economic opportunities. And it flat-out doesn't work. Governor McCrory and his enablers in the General Assembly should be helping to move North Carolina's economy forward instead of making us a laughingstock to the world.



Preaching to the choir

... but glad to read the sermon all the same.

The tide of public opinion has definitely begun to turn away from incarceration, especially with regard to cannabis, whether for industrial, medicinal, or recreational use, and it's long over due.

House leaders had the opportunity to act boldly in defense of individual rights and personal freedom earlier this year when Rep. Stam (R-Wake) essentially strong-armed HB-84, a bill that would have legalized medicinal cannabis for a handful of very specific uses in North Carolina, into oblivion. In the face of overwhelming public support, Stam and his GOP peers chose to ignore the will of the majority in order to maintain the status quo, which continues to waste millions of dollars and thousands of lives each year in pursuit of Nixon's failed 'War on Drugs'.

It's good to finally see these issues being addressed by those a bit closer to the main stream.

Thanks for taking a stand.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

That's fine, but ...

... North Carolina is really going to have to come to terms with the widespread manufacture, sale, and use of meth.

While the large scale manufacture of meth is in decline because of the 2006 law that limited the sale of the main ingredient, there are still a significant number of busts of smaller meth lab operations.

These create a real headache for law enforcement and the owners of properties since the location has to be cleared of hazardous waste, not to mention the human toll that use of the drug causes.

The state needs to put a focus on treatment and prevention to curb demand - NC's done a good job with the law enforcement side of the equation, but not with curtailing use. There were 460 reported meth lab busts in 2012.


The few police officers I've spoken with say they are fighting a losing battle on meth ... a battle they cannot possibly win. Yes, they know how to bust labs, but it's a continuing game of whack-a-mole. Your comment about treatment and prevention to curb demand is right on the money.

I wish I had a good answer to the whole questions of drug laws, but I don't. All I know is that the approach we're taking ... the war on drugs ... hasn't worked, isn't working, and won't work.

To your point, we've never really tried education and treatment in any sustained and meaningful way.

The "decriminalize and tax" model, in my view, has the most promise. At least there we'd be in a position to fund education and treatment interventions. And we'd also interrupt the exploding pipeline to prison.

Meth is a helluva drug

I've known several people who got themselves into the losing battle that is meth addiction; it's an ugly thing to witness and I'd imagine even worse to live through.

The thing is, if we weren't spending so much time and money chasing, catching, and jailing relatively benign pot farmers, perhaps we'd have more resources to throw at eradicating clandestine meth labs, not to mention providing better treatment and intervention.

If we legalized and regulated all drugs, set up a system to control the production and distribution as well as taxing the sales (not to mention raising taxes on folks like the Puppet Master), we'd have a lot better control over who has access and provide those in the grip of addiction with safer supplies, thus reducing harm while we figure out how to help them manage and hopefully overcome their addictions.

I read about a program in a South American nation (can't think of which one just now) where they established a treatment program to move junkies from heroin to methadone and eventually to marijuana. While the patient might end up a life long user of cannabis in the process, they no longer face the prospect of overdose or death from contaminated supplies, or at least greatly reduce the odds of such.

We can no more legislate or prosecute drug use out of existence than we can alcohol use or for that matter, pornography, but we can make a huge difference in the harm caused by these behaviors if we bring them out into the open and reduce the stigma and legal punishments we currently allow as a society.

I'll shut up now.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Closing treatment centers

and slashing funds for drug courts is the Republican way. The way to lose the war on drugs, that is.

Weed in Washington DC

I'm going to have to do some research on this, but I'm guessing North Carolina has an equally racist approach to marijuana arrests ... and to ruining lives of thousands of young people.

It's indisputably insane.