North Carolina Beats Back Drug-Homicide Law, For Now

In May 2018, the North Carolina General Assembly introduced a bill that would have made it much easier to charge a person with murder if they provided drugs to someone who overdosed.  North Carolina already had a similar law on the books, but it was rarely used because in order to charge someone, law enforcement had to prove “malice” or demonstrate that the overdose was not an accident.


The new bill would have created a whole new charge, “death by distribution of a dangerous drug,” to circumvent the need to prove malice.  In states where the malice requirement has been dropped, drug-induced homicide cases have soared.  In Pennsylvania, for example, which changed its laws in 2011, the number of drug-induced homicide cases went from four in 2011, to 171 in 2017.


Former drug user John M. was among those who opposed the bill.


When you sell drugs and also use them, chances are, you will become your best customer,” says John, who started selling drugs in college to support his own addiction.  Then you use too much of your own supply and start owing people money. It can get scary.  Everyone I knew who was selling drugs was a user too.  I never came across any people who sold for pure profit.


Another opponent of the bill was Sala Abdallah, a community organizer in Durham, North Carolina, who also once sold drugs.  He says there are much better ways to address the problem than punishment.


“More resources need to be put toward at-risk youth and single parent households,” says Abdallah.  Invest in education and jobs.  Teach dropouts a trade.  There wouldn’t be so many people selling drugs if we felt there were other options.”


Today, John details cars, and Abdallah works for a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs and resources.  Both men spoke with state representatives in an attempt to shake the stereotype of drug dealers as people who peddle poison for profit.


In the end, the homicide provision in the North Carolina bill was removed.  However, the lawmakers behind the provision say they’ll try again in 2019. If they do, John and Abdallah will be ready.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 12/23/2020

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