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Brasstown Possum Drop gets bad news in court

election timeBrasstown might be facing another possumless Possum Drop this year after a Wake County judge shot down the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

The latest in a years-long history of legislation, lawsuit, counter-legislation and counter-lawsuit, the case involves a law North Carolina passed this year that suspends all state wildlife laws pertaining to possums between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2 of each year — dates which, not so coincidentally, sandwich the annual possum-centered New Year’s celebration in Brasstown. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Roger West, a Republican from Marble, which is just about 20 minutes from Brasstown. 

Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins had some strong words about West’s law in his Nov. 13 denial of the state’s motion to dismiss. 

A law that provides “a financial benefit to a select group of businesses that happened to be favored by Representative West,” he wrote, “does not constitute a legitimate government purpose. It is the essence of impermissible economic protectionism.”

Collins also wrote that there’s evidence the law was born of “animosity” toward animal welfare groups such as PETA, which has been taking the Possum Drop issue up in court since 2012. 

“The purpose to discriminate and silence animal welfare groups in an effort to protect a powerful industry cannot justify passage of a discriminatory law,” Collins wrote. 

But Clay Logan, organizer of the annual event and owner of Clay’s Corner in Brasstown — the self-proclaimed “opossum capital of the world” — said that’s not what the Possum Drop is about at all. It’s not about harming wildlife or sticking it to PETA. It’s just a chance to ring in the New Year in a family-friendly, alcohol-free, patriotic and light-hearted way. 

“Some folks in this country can’t respect that, so they seek an advantage through the court system which by and far has swung too far to protect special interests,” he said in a statement. 

Next stop for the Possum Drop is a Dec. 11 court date in which Collins will decide whether to grant PETA’s motion for a preliminary injunction. If he rules in their favor, possum protections will continue pending a final decision, meaning no live possum at the 2015-16 Possum Drop.

“The Opossum Drop’s screaming crowds, thumping music and fireworks are what frighten opossums most,” said Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, so the organization hopes that the festivities will go forward in a possumless fashion. 

Logan is rooting for the opposite outcome. 

“We are going to keep having the opossum drop as part of our community celebration of the New Year unless some judge rules against our patriotism and prayers,” he wrote. “It’s just that simple. That’s the way I see it.”

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