Weed, breasts, opossums keep NC lawmakers busy Wednesday

cjarvis@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2013 

NEW YEAR POSSUM 4

Brasstown is known as the Possum Capital of the South, and at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, the city will hosts its annual Possum Drop in which a live possum in a Plexiglas cage will be lowered to celebrate the coming of the New Year. The possum is freed after the event. (Erik S. Lesser/The New York Times)

ERIK S. LESSER — NYT

— Wednesday’s calendar at the General Assembly sounded like a frat boys’ to-do list: weed, bare breasts and opossums.

But it was not so funny for medical marijuana supporters, who were disappointed that a House committee killed a bill that would have legalized it.

A roomful of people supporting the legislation by Democratic Rep. Kelly Alexander of Charlotte and Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro crowded into the House Rules Committee meeting. Four people were allowed to address the committee before a divided voice vote ended the discussion.

Some of those who spoke told the committee that marijuana was their only relief for chronic pain or nausea from chemotherapy.

After the meeting ended, several emotional medical marijuana supporters surrounded the N.C. Family Policy Council’s Jere Royall, who had spoken against the bill. Sergeant-at-arms reinforcements gathered as the backers loudly accused Royall of misrepresenting the facts, but the confrontation subsided without further incident.

The vote procedurally prevents the issue from coming up again this year.

The tense end to the meeting contrasted with the snickers and innuendo that accompanied discussion of the bill outlawing topless women in public.

The committee unanimously approved legislation clarifying that willfully exposed female nipples – other than when breastfeeding – constitute indecent exposure.

The bill, by Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt of Asheville and Rep. Rayne Brown of Lexington, was in response to two topless festivals in Asheville in recent years.

Although a state Supreme Court ruling in 1998 held that a fully exposed female breast constitutes “private parts,” language to that effect has never been written into the state law books.

Responding to questions about why the bill was necessary, Hal Pell of the General Assembly research division noted that mooning, for instance, is legal in North Carolina.

“If they decided to have a mooning festival, it would be covered?” asked Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat.

“If that was to, indeed, happen, it would probably happen in Asheville,” Moffitt said. “I would be prepared to address that with a separate piece of legislation.”

Hall asked Moffitt if he would accept a mooning amendment or wait until next year for a separate bill. Moffitt asked that the bill be passed without an amendment.

“You can address this on the back end,” Hall replied, triggering raucous laughter among committee members.

“This was a revealing discussion,” concluded committee chairman Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Rules Committee spent all of about one minute on the opossum bill before interrupting an explanation by sponsor Rep. Roger West, a Republican from Marble, and voting to approve it.

The bill would clear the way for a popular New Year’s Eve “possum drop” in Brasstown, in which the animal is lowered in a cage. A companion bill in the Senate is dubbed “The Opposum Right-to-Work Act.”

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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