August 10, 2008
By April Johnston
Last week, when Sue Buie was cutting ripe okra in her swollen field
near the Cape Fear River, she heard the unmistakable drone of an
It was flying low, hovering over the crops. Circling back and hovering again.
"They found another one," she thought.
And they had.
The Harnett County Sheriff's Office, with help from the National
Guard, found a third field of marijuana. This one was growing deep in
the woods off McArthur Road, under a canopy of leaves and needles.
The plants had been meticulously watered and fertilized until some of
them stood 6 feet tall.
There were 30,000 of them, which brings this summer's total in the
area to 70,000.
"That's a lot of pot," Craig Hadley, owner of the Sidewalk Cafe in
Broadway, said with a chuckle.
But not everyone in Broadway is laughing. Because even though none of
the marijuana was found within the city limits, and even though
Broadway belongs to Lee County, not Harnett, it's close enough that
it's starting to get a reputation.
"We're the place with all the pot," said Road Runner Cafe owner
Courtney Green, twisting her face in disgust.
Only it's not.
Broadway is, quite literally, a one-light town (and a flashing light
at that). The houses are neat and humble, with cramped front porches
and well-manicured lawns.
Most residents have lived here their entire lives. Even the so-called
newcomers have called Broadway home for at least 10 years.
It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and you can't
bury your business. When Yow's Grocery was robbed Thursday a nearly
unheard of occurrence in this town most people knew about it within
30 minutes. They offered help in 35.
When Hadley announced plans to relocate his cafe, the regulars
protested loudly and then offered to help him find something nice in town.
"If I moved out of here, they'd hang me and bury me in a pot field," he said.
Because nobody likes much change in Broadway. They want to see
tobacco leaves littering the road from Lee to Harnett County every
summer and watch the Women's Club of Broadway plant flowers every spring.
Because, says Jennifer Cummings with a dreamy smile, Broadway is Mayberry.
"Mayberry gone Haight-Ashbury," Hadley corrected, referring to a
district in San Francisco made famous during the 1960s hippie movement.
The entire mess started in June, when the county began its annual
marijuana eradication program. Spotters from the state Highway Patrol
found a 10-acre field off Womack Road teeming with 35,000 plants and
a semi-sophisticated farming system.
Sheriff Larry Rollins had a hunch there was more, so he hired a
private pilot from Charlotte to fly over the rest of the county. Six
weeks later, that pilot found another field with 5,000 plants.
Add the 30,000 the National Guard found last week and Harnett County
has an epidemic an epidemic with a street value of $168 million.
And most believe that's not the end.
Catherine Wicker grew up in Harnett County, three miles from Broadway
and just about where they found some of that marijuana. She's
innocent enough to spend her days at Lett Family Park's ball field,
scouring the parking lot for lost coins (one time, she found $7), but
she's worldly enough to know her hometown's pot problem isn't going
away. Business goes where it's got buyers, and it's got buyers in
"I'm glad they got it off the street, but you know there's more," she
said, taking a puff from her cigarette and kicking the sand around
under her feet, hoping something glints in the sun.
Rollins feels bad for Broadway's burgeoning reputation "it's a nice
little town" but he agrees with Wicker. There's more pot. And when
he finds it, he'll do with it what he did with the rest of it.
Exactly what that is, Rollins won't say. He's made that mistake before.
Twenty years ago, he doused a remote marijuana field with fuel and
set it ablaze. He thought every last bit of it burned, so he let it
slip where the field was located. A few days later, 100 pounds of
that marijuana was missing.
It didn't take him long to locate it.
"That's the only arrest we made," Rollins said. "The guys who sold us
back our 100 pounds of diesel-soaked marijuana."
He's not taking any such chances this time around. But he will say
this: All three fields were grown with remarkably similar operations,
so it's likely they're related. And the campsites set up next to each
field had remarkably similar accoutrements beans, tortillas and all
the ingredients to whip up a batch of salsa so he suspects at least
some of the culprits are Hispanic.
Whether a local is running the show, he's not sure. But Buie, who
spent Thursday morning selling the okra she'd cut, along with
watermelons and silver queen corn, is certain of it.
The National Guard found the latest marijuana field on her cousin's
land. It wasn't his, she can tell you that. But sometimes, especially
on the long afternoons she sits under her striped umbrellas and sells
vegetables out of the back of her pickup, she wishes it was hers.
Then again, she's a retired high school criminal justice teacher, and
getting arrested for growing marijuana would be bad form.
"I'm not going to jail for it," she said, "but if they made it legal,
I'd probably grow it."
"You think I'd be out here in the heat if I was growing marijuana?" she asked.
Staff writer April Johnston can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-4848 ext. 384.