State writes tax bill for marijuana near Asheville

The state of North Carolina has sent an $88,866 tax bill to two people charged with marijuana offenses after Buncombe County authorities seized 114 plants this summer.

Darwin Bisping, 32, pizza delivery driver, was charged with manufacturing marijuana and trafficking in July after the plants were found at his Asheville home. Housemate Jennifer McCart, 30, also was charged and received a separate tax bill.

Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan said officials notify state revenue agents when a drug arrest is made because state law allows taxation of illegal drugs, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Thursday.

Bisping said he needs marijuana for medical reasons and he doesn't think it is right to be taxed on “something you can't even legally grow.”

Officials said the tax bill is a civil matter that isn't part of the criminal case. The legislature in 1998 said taxing someone for an illegal substance doesn't amount to punishing the person twice, said George Valsame, assistant director of the revenue department's unauthorized substance tax division.

The state law says more than 42.5 grams of marijuana can be taxed at $3.50 per gram.

Bisping and McCart each were taxed on 18,053 grams of marijuana and also were charged $25,274 in penalties and $406 in interest.

Bisping said he uses the drug to calm nerve problems and to help him swallow food after esophagus surgery. He also disputes the weight of the marijuana that was seized.

“This ain't about justice, this is about money,” he said.

Valsame said the tax is the state's way of getting revenue, but admits it is hard to keep up with the fluctuating price of drugs. He said 75 percent of the tax goes to the agency that seized the drug and the rest goes into the state's general fund. The penalties support schools.

Valsame said a drug dealer can pay the fees anonymously and not be penalized if arrested on criminal charges. The division has stamps showing the amount paid that are supposed to be attached to the drugs.

“In the entire history of the program, I think all of the stamps we have sold as far as we know have gone to stamp collectors,” he said. “We don't have drug dealers coming and buying these stamps.”