LANSING-Aldermen faced a dilemma Tuesday evening.
What would their constituents think if town aldermen threw their support behind a resolution supporting the legalization of a clean needle exchange program?
That sentiment weighed heavy on the minds of the town’s elected officials Tuesday night as they decided not to take a vote on a controversial resolution that is primed to hit the N.C. General Assembly.
Currently, it is illegal to distribute clean needles for those who use injected drugs, but a new resolution that state lawmakers could consider might decriminalize that stance.
It is part of an effort to lower the transmission of blood borne disease, protect law enforcement from needle-stick injury, support the fiscal sustainability of North Carolina Medicaid and connect people who use injected drugs to substance use treatment and social services.
“Passing out clean needles is illegal because North Carolina said it is,” said Diana Goodwin, a volunteer with the N.C. Harm Coalition who spoke on behalf of the resolution to the board. “Other states have passed legalization. There are underground groups in towns like Asheville and Durham that pass out clean needles that police tolerate.”
Goodwin said needle exchanges were initially outlawed as part of the national “War on Drugs” campaign of the 1980s.
After Goowdwin’s presentation, town officials expressed concerns about how the public might perceive the symbolic show of support.
“When you tell people about it (the program), the reaction I got was, ‘Oh my God. They are putting a needle exchange in Lansing’ or ‘They are trying to turn Lansing in a place to get needles for junkies,” Lansing Mayor Dylan Lightfoot said. He went on to say, regardless of the science behind a needle exchange program, town officials have to worry about the public’s perception of the resolution.
Lansing is a remote, conservative, religious community, he said.
“We are involved in a lot of things, like park development, we have a water and sewer system to rebuild. We are dealing with the public and public officials,” said Lightfoot. “In my mind, I’m weighing the drop in the bucket from the town of Lansing supporting this bill versus the harm it can to do.”
Goodwin said she was slightly taken back by the town’s reaction Tuesday night, but was not deterred.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the board’s receptiveness of this in March,” said Goodwin following the board’s decision to table the discussion and a vote. Goodwin said she would also welcome the town’s recommendation to seek the support of local law enforcement.
Goodwin said she plans to speak with local law enforcement and get more information on where the resolution stands moving forward before going back to the board in May.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.