NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Across the country, attitudes are changing about marijuana. Two states legalized recreational use while medicinal marijuana is allowed in more than a dozen more.
A medical marijuana bill is on its way to the General Assembly, but the drug remains illegal in North Carolina. Law enforcement in the Cape Fear Region remain firm that weed is still a priority.
"It's probably the top big drug we run into," said a narcotics officers with the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office.
Marijuana is the target of operations much like heroin or prescription pills, according to Captain David Ciamillo, head of the vice-narcotics unit of the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office.
"I understand the potential and I know what's already occurred because of this marijuana," Ciamillo said.
The increasing potency of the drug is driving up the cost, according to Ciamillo. Stashes of marijuana are the target of a number of armed robberies and armed invasions.
"When you have five or six pounds of marijuana in your house, to the right person you have $30,000 cash in your home," he said.
It's not unusual for the victim of a break-in to report little to nothing stolen Ciamillo said. Sometimes people openly admit to having their weed ripped away.
"There has to be a profit to even get involved," Ciamillo said. "Otherwise the juice is not worth the squeeze."
While the problem may seem distant, Ciamillo said people who are unaware of drug activity in their neighborhood can still become involved.
"If you're the neighbor of the person who has six pounds of marijuana in the house, and there are armed subjects going to your neighbor's house," he said. "There's collateral damage to your family."
Narcotics officers suggest heightening your awareness as the best way to protect yourself. A phone call about something unusual will not be ignored.
"Be nosey," Ciamillo said. "Get to know your neighbors and what's going on around you."