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Drug War Defector
Leave it to Carrboro to spark up a debate over decriminalizing marijuana. The town is consistently stirring the pot on sensitive issues, as it did with the death penalty. It was the first to have the decency to adopt a local resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. That resolution, proposed by Alderman Jacqueline Gist in 1999 and passed the same year, has since been adopted by 11 other N.C. municipalities.Now Gist has a new proposal. At a Jan. 28 town government retreat, she argued that it's time to focus resources on treating, not incarcerating, people who are wrapped up in illegal drug use.

Gist floated two drug policy proposals: That Carrboro seek to establish treatment and rehabilitation centers, and that the town send a resolution to the N.C. Legislature proposing decriminalization of most illegal drugs, especially marijuana.

"I know some really good people who have been hooked on crack," she said. "I'd love to see them have some alternatives."

One alternative, Gist suggests, would be an Orange County branch of Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA), a Durham nonprofit that rehabilitates substance abusers with a regimen of clean living and construction work. (And which recently refurbished The Independent's Durham office.)

Local detox programs are overflowing, Gist says, and afterward, there is scant follow-up. "People hit a point when they want help, and it's not there," Gist says. "If we had a TROSA-type program available when people were at that point, they would have somewhere to go." The program she envisions would be a joint enterprise between Orange County, Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

Just as important as treatment, Gist says, is decriminalization. "I think the war on drugs is a farce," she says. "I'm not pro-drug. I'm pro-taking care of people, and pro-solutions to community problems." Part of the community's drug problem, she believes, would go away if some drugs were no longer illegal--and therefore no longer on the black market and no longer filling the prisons.

For starters, Gist says, "I'd like to legalize pot--I think that's one of the dumbest laws on the books." This spring she plans to introduce a resolution before the Board of Aldermen urging the General Assembly to do just that.

If the resolution is passed, Carrboro will be the first town in North Carolina to advocate marijuana decriminalization, but not the first in the nation. Several municipalities, including Madison, Wis., Berkeley, Calif., and Amherst, Mass., have effectively decriminalized the drug, according to Paul Armentano, research director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In those cities, he says, local prosecutors have--and usually take advantage of--the option of merely levying a small fine for small-scale pot offenders.

Of course, scaling back pot punishments is still regarded as a political hot potato. "Decriminalization often polls well with the public, but politicians just as often shy away from it," Armentano says. "Any time you have elected officials standing up for it, it's a positive development. It's a sign that local politicians are catching up with their constituents."

Gist agrees. "I think most people believe drug abuse is a public health problem more than a crime problem," she says.

It will take much more than one resolution to reverse the state's support for the war on drugs, of course. But Gist says that such a step could, like Carrboro's anti-death penalty resolution, "absorb the shock" of the knee-jerk backlash and create some much-needed space for debate.

Let's See, Where Did I Leave That Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever Virus?
Attention mad scientists and would-be terrorists. If you are currently storing the following toxic agents in your lab, you must report your sinister inventory to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services by Feb. 25. The toxic agents are: eastern equine encephalitis virus, Ebola viruses, equine morbillivirus, Lassa fever virus, Marburg virus, Rift Valley fever virus, South American Haemorrhagic viruses, tick-borne encephalitis, variola major virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus and the yellow fever virus.These pathogens, along with 20 strains of bacteria, fungi and assorted toxins, could be used by terrorists in a biological attack. North Carolina says it's the first state to register its deadly bugs. Once a comprehensive list is made, authorities will be better able to monitor the labs handling this stuff and respond immediately if a vial of botulinum toxins suddenly turns up missing.

So Who DOES Live in District 1?
Durham school board member Mozell Robinson got married in December. She moved into a new house. It is not in District 1, the area she was elected to represent and a seat she has held since it was created by the city-county school merger a decade ago. So after an embarrassing series of newspaper articles, Robinson resigned at the end of January. (Not that Robinson considered her non-residency in her district a problem until The Herald-Sun's education reporter Rebecca Eden posed the question and began driving by her former house, noticing there weren't any lights on.)

Robinson now lives in District 4. And so, it turns out, does one of the candidates who planned to run for her District 1 seat.

Confused yet?

Community activist Larry Holt, an IBM project manager who holds leadership positions in both the People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, planned to make his first bid for elected office in the May school board race. He double-checked his district and announced he would seek Robinson's District 1 seat.

But it turns out his Stardust Drive house was moved out of District 1 and into District 4 during some precinct shuffling at the county Board of Elections in April 2000. When he checked his district before announcing his campaign, the elections database was a little behind the times, listing him and 149 other voters on Stardust Drive and Stardust Court in the wrong school district, says Elections Director Mike Ashe. The database is caught up now, leaving Robinson, Holt, and current District 4 rep Arnold Spell all in District 4, a predominantly white district that Spell, who is white, has represented since the city-county merger.

"District 4 is getting kind of crowded, isn't it?" Holt asks with a frustrated laugh. "This puts a little different twist on things."

Spell isn't running again. Robinson, who is black, isn't saying publicly whether she'll run in her new home district. And Holt, who is also black, is now thinking maybe his demographics would be more favorable in 2004, when he can run for the "Consolidated District B" seat that includes Districts 3 and 4, or the at-large seat.

As far as District 1 goes, North-East Central Durham community activist and former city councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff is the only remaining announced candidate. And yes, she does live in District 1--we checked. EndBlock

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