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Possum Drop returns to Raleigh

For the third year in a row, opossums are making their way to the political scene in the N.C. General Assembly. 

The bill — of which Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, is a primary sponsor — would suspend all state wildlife laws related to possums between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2 each year. It’s currently awaiting hearing in the House Committee on Wildlife Resources.

The legislation is aimed toward Clay County, home of the annual New Year’s Eve Possum Drop. Every year, the community of Brasstown comes together for an alcohol-free New Year’s celebration featuring events such as the Miss Possum cross-dressing contest, a reading of “Eulogy to a Possum” and, most notably, the midnight lowering of a live possum contained in a Plexiglas cage. 

It’s this last part that’s raised the ire of animal rights activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA has launched multiple lawsuits regarding the event, most recently a suit taking issue with a 2014 law with very similar language to the one currently introduced in the House. Brasstown rang in 2015 without a live possum. 

The 2014, law, however, applied only to Clay County and not to the state as a whole. 

“You can’t just give your favorite people an exemption from having to comply with the law where everyone else has to comply,” Martina Bernstein, director of litigation for PETA, said of the Clay County-specific law. 

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Litigation over the issue is expected to finish up sometime this year, and Clay Logan, the Possum Drop’s organizer, fully expects to have a live possum as the event’s centerpiece for New Year’s 2015. He’s already submitted his permit application and welcomes the potential passage of this law, which he anticipates would make the process that much easier. 

PETA isn’t applauding, though.

“Simply put, the 2014 law is unconstitutional. However, replacing one unconstitutional law with another does not solve the problem,” said David Perle, PETA’s social media coordinator. “The new bill still unfairly exempts people from having to comply with animal-cruelty laws.”

PETA also fears the wide-open possibilities of possum treatment between the specified dates the bill would permit. 

“Under this law, anybody in North Carolina would be able to harm opossums, release them from cages at zoos, lower them in boxes during the much-despised and ridiculed Opossum Drop, or interfere with the drop by removing the opossum,” said Jeff Kerr, PETA’s general counsel. “It spells chaos and is a return to the mid-1800s, when wildlife was not protected by law.”

Logan, however doesn’t see the problem. The Possum Drop is a “good family event” and “doesn’t hurt no possums,” he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people will never know what the law is,” he said. “Ain’t nobody tortures them. Ain’t nobody drives out on the road to try to run over one. I don’t see where it would have any effect on the possums.” 

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