Several judges across North Carolina are hard at work this winter deciding on one of the pressing issues of our time: Should a town be allowed to drop a cage containing a live possum to ring in New Year's Eve?
For more than 20 years, the small town of Brasstown, NC (nickname: "The Opussum Capital of the World") has celebrated the new year by slowly lowering a box containing a possum during the year's final seconds while hundreds of people look on. Clay's Corner, the country store that hosts the annual Possum Drop, describes the annual event on its website as "the most exciting thing that we do in Brasstown, besides going to the John C. Campbell Folk School and dance with the pretty Danish girl."
"If New York can drop a "Ball"," the website continues, "[and] Georgia can drop a "Peach", then we can lower the Opossum."
(If the folksy style of that description seemed a bit contrived, that's because it's at least partly meant to be tongue-in-cheek. "We're kind of poking fun at all the stereotypes of rednecks and hillbillies," Possum Drop founder Clay Logan told The New York Times in 2003.)
At least they were poking fun at all the stereotypes of rednecks and hillbillies, until PETA got involved. The animal activist group believes the Possum Drop is cruel, and worries that the possums involved could die of shock as a result. As early as 2004, PETA was threatening to sue Logan over the Possum Drop. This led to the substitution of a dead possum in some years.
Turns out that while shooting and killing possums is fine, North Carolina has laws against keeping wildlife for amusement purposes. This led sympathetic lawmakers to propose and pass some truly breathtaking legislation. The Opossum Right-to-Work Act never made it out of committee, but two other bills did during the 2013-14 legislative session: One created a permitting process for people to capture wild animals for amusement purposes, and the other suspended the state's wildlife regulations for possums between December 26 and January 2 in Clay County. After a judge said it was probably unconstitutional to have the Legislature suspend rules in a single county, the suspension was expanded statewide.
That brings us to the present day: There are now two legal battles between waged between PETA & Logan and the state, according to The Charlotte Observer. The North Carolina Court of Appeals met during the last week of October over the legality of Logan's permit to drop the possum, and usually takes a few months to render a decision. A North Carolina Superior Court challenge to the regulation suspensions was scheduled to start sometime this week, according to the Observer.
Meanwhile, the Clay's Corner website claims this year's event is going forward as scheduled, with no word about the various legal battles. Perhaps to dispute PETA's claim that state laws had made it a "zone of lawlessness" that "allowed a possum to be burned, waterboarded, crucified or otherwise tortured," the store has the following disclaimer on its front page.
Well when you put it that way, it almost makes it sound like the possum would enjoy the experience. Almost.