WILSON — A Federal Appeals Court says North Carolina's tax on suspected drug dealers is unconstitutional -- punishing them twice for the same crime. The ruling costs law enforcement thousands of dollars and puts suspected dealers back on the street.
Narcotics officers found enough drugs in this latest bust to fill an entire room at the Nash County Sheriff's Department. It's all there -- 500 pounds of marijuana, two pounds of cocaine, and thousands of dollars in cash.
Until a few weeks ago, it would have been worth more than a million dollars to taxpayers under North Carolina's drug tax law. The state taxes suspects for selling illegal drugs here.
But, a federal appeals court says that law is unconstitutional, so the hundreds of thousands of dollars these drugs would have provided to Nash County will stay with the suspects, according to Nash County Sheriff Jimmy Grimes.
Last week, a judge in Robeson County threw out charges against a drug suspect, ruling that the tax was punishment enough. N.C. Attorney General Mike Easley says that tax is revenue -- not punishment.
Right now, law enforcement is adding up the tax, but they are not collecting it. Officers say they'll have their figures ready if the Supreme Court ruling goes their way.
North Carolina collects more money from its illegal drug tax than any other state in the country. Since the drug tax went into effect eight years ago, it has generated more than $26 million. Three-fourths of the money used to go back to the department that made the bust, to pay for drug enforcement programs.
The rest of the seized tax money goes into the state's general fund.