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Scott Sexton: Green matters in the details of the marijuana debate

Suits, ties, guns and badges engaged with tattoos, sandals and white-guy dreadlocks to discuss Tuesday evening the pros and cons of … legal weed.

Perhaps weirdest of all, both ends of the spectrum walked away with more common ground than would have seemed possible when Forsyth County’s top prosecutor — a Republican candidate for state attorney general — professed publicly support for legalized medicinal marijuana.

“I’d be all for it …. I understand the benefits of it when you talk about the medicinal use, and I understand how it could help in terms of appetite and those sorts of things,” said District Attorney Jim O’Neill.

That statement, supported by a deeply personal story about the death of his mother from cancer, drew gasps and then applause from many in a crowd of 150 or so who filed into Footnote for a panel discussion called “Pot or Not: Is it time for marijuana laws to change.”

Shocking as that was coming from the elected district attorney, O’Neill will never be mistaken for a discount Bernie Sanders.

The devil, as always, resides in the details. Especially as they pertain to the inevitable discussion about the differing degrees of legal weed.

Degrees of legal

At last count, some 33 states (and the District of Columbia) have some version of legal marijuana.

Most — Utah, Missouri and Oklahoma to name three of 22 — have approved the use of pot for medical purposes. That would include treatment of glaucoma, some forms of epilepsy, chronic pain and for cancer patients.

The District of Columbia and 11 other states including Colorado, Massachusetts and Nevada have gone full-on hippie by approving recreational use for adults 21 and older. Some of those states, supporters note, have realized a tax revenue bonanza that’s helped pave roads and build schools.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington, the three states that have had recreational marijuana the longest, had raked in some $1.3 billion combined in sales tax alone since 2010. Note that figure does not include tourism dollars.

Not much of that came up Tuesday, though. We live in North Carolina, and we’re far more conservative than, say, Nevada or Massachusetts — two other states where voters have approved recreational pot.

And that was evident in the tone and manner of the panel discussion.

O’Neill and Capt. Henry Gray, the commander of the narcotics unit for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, spent a good chunk of their mic time focused on drug crime.

Both men said that marijuana, not cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine, is a leading cause of robberies and shootings here. In response, several people in the crowd murmured and openly jeered.

“You don’t have to like the information,” O’Neill said. “I’m just sharing what I see day in and day out.”

That’s no doubt true, but I’ll wager that the lure of large amounts of cash and the black-market value of dealer amounts of marijuana — greed plus the appeal of victims reluctant to report being ripped off — is the motivation rather than a desire to smoke up and eat Oreos.

De facto decriminalization

Near the outset of the Twin City Talks discussion Tuesday, O’Neill opened his segment with a question: How many people in the Forsyth County Detention Center are in there for a marijuana charge?

“Zero. No one is sitting over there solely with a possession of marijuana,” he said. “For simple possession only, (police) don’t even write a ticket.”

His point was that charging someone with having a misdemeanor amount of weed — less than 1½ ounces — isn’t worth a cop’s time, the state’s money or precious jail space to prosecute.

Simple possession is essentially decriminalized. And that’s a starting point for a conversation about marijuana and a fertile field to plow for common ground.

Sharing a personal story about a dying loved one who could have benefited from medicinal marijuana was the perfect place to begin. O’Neill promised state Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Winston-Salem and a supporter of more liberal pot laws, that he would push the state’s prosecutors to support a medical marijuana bill.

The crowd, once the surprise wore off, heartily approved.

While there was some general agreement, the devilish details — which weren’t discussed at length — remain.

The badges, I’m certain, were speaking only in favor of a few limited circumstances where cancer patients or those suffering with epilepsy could get marijuana in strictly controlled circumstances.

Others in the crowd, I’m equally certain, envision a California-style program where anyone feeling even a little bit anxious can obtain a card to load up on edibles, oils and high-grade weed at dispensaries on every block.

The heart of the discussion beats in the details.

The true driving factor, whether or not anyone says so out loud, is money — the only green that matters.

Tax revenue, tourism dollars and the cash that can be made by the investor class eventually will be too much to resist.

Serious discussions about medical marijuana are underway.

North Carolina may well be the last state to jump onboard — remember how long it took for the lottery to get here — but the train is fueling up.

55 goats are eating acres of kudzu along Salem Creek Greenway

Under a hot southern sun it can grow a foot a day, covering everything in its path, and will weigh trees down until they snap.

It is kudzu, and Reuben the goat, along with 54 of his kin, are going to eat acres of it here in Winston-Salem before the end of October.

On this hot Tuesday in September, the goats are being loaded into a trailer bound for the other side of Salem Creek where they will eat another few acres of the invasive vine. Except Reuben doesn’t want to get into the truck.

“He’s just a big pet,” says Jake Dorner, who’s technically in charge — Reuben would beg to differ — while chasing him with the “rattle paddle.”

Reuben wears a blue ribbon around his neck, has long curly horns and wants absolutely nothing to do with the trailer. He lets out a “baa,” presumably in protest.

That’s too bad, he’s got a job to do.

“He knows he gets to be the first one off if he’s the last one on,” Dorner says while pulling him up into the trailer with the rest of the herd.

Dorner is the manager and soon-to-be owner of Wells Farm in Etowah, N.C., and makes the trip down from the mountains about once a week to move the goats to a new section of kudzu along the Salem Creek Greenway. He’s not sure how much kudzu they eat a day, only that it’s a lot.

While unusual to see downtown in any city, over the next three years this herd of goats from Wells Farm will eat the kudzu down to the root, letting workers come in to spray and kill it so it never comes back, Dorner said

“It’ll stress the plant out so much that it’s manageable in three years,” he said.

It’s an ecologically sustainable solution to clear the invasive vine from an area of creekbank not suitable for mowing, Dorner said. It’s also safer than sending people in the kudzu where they can’t see the ground and what they’re stepping on, he said.

Dorner said Wells Farm has about 300 goats in total, some eating kudzu and other vegetation as far away as Ohio.

Although contained in an electric fence, Dorner said the goats probably wouldn’t hurt anybody that didn’t provoke them. The fence is more of a deterrent for people, rather than the goats.

“It’ll throw an arc about half-an-inch,” Dorner said about the strength of the fence’s current.

“It hurts.”

The goats will be here — off and on — for three years as part of a contract with the city of Winston-Salem.

The goats will leave before the end of October, headed back to the farm for the winter. In May, they’ll come back until the middle of June, Dorner said, and then they’ll make another return trip sometime in August.

As for the goats themselves, most of them are sold off every 10 years, either to other farms or to the meat market.

But not Reuben, he is a rescue goat from a humane society after he was improperly castrated, Dorner said. After all, he’s just a big pet.

Inflammatory emails sent to 12 Wake Forest faculty and staff members; messages contained racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic language

A group of Wake Forest University faculty and staff members received racist and homophobic emails last week that called for a purge of minorities and members of the LGBTQ community, university officials and a campus newspaper say.

Twelve university faculty and staff members received the emails from an unknown source, university police said in a message Tuesday that was distributed to students, faculty and staff members.

“The emails were intentionally inflammatory, using racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and discriminatory language, the university’s message said.

Although the wording of the emails was intimidating and threatening, “no direct and specific threat was made,” Wake Forest said. “At this time, we have had no reports of any students receiving similar emails, and no further emails have been reported since the original twelve.”

The emails were sent to individual and office inboxes associated with the Department of Sociology, the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQ Center and Intercultural Center, Wake Forest said.

The Wake Forest Review, an independent newspaper at Wake Forest, reported Tuesday night that the sociology department wrote that the emails “praised the white male founding fathers, dismissed our undergraduates with ugly vile language, and called for our land to be ‘purged’ of people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The department continued, “The call to ‘purge’ categories of persons, is a white supremacist call for genocide,” the Wake Forest Review reported.

The sociology department wrote in its response to the emails: “We live in a society plagued by racism, sexism, and gun violence. We will do all we can to carry forward our scholarship, teaching, and our public engagement for social justice.”

Joseph Soares, the chairman of the sociology department, and Angela Mazaris, the director of the university’s LGBTQ Center, couldn’t be reached Wednesday to comment.

Simone Caron, chairwoman of the university’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Jose Villabla, WFU’s chief diversity officer, also couldn’t be reached for comment.

In response to faculty and staff concerns, Wake Forest has increased the police and security presence around the buildings where the emails were received, the university said.

“After consulting with state and federal authorities, Wake Forest did not cancel classes or issue an alert to students requiring any change to daily activity,” the university said.

Some sociology professors chose to cancel their classes, said Cheryl Walker, a university spokeswoman.

University police are investigating the emails, with the help of local, state and federal authorities .

Chief Regina Lawson of the Wake Forest police, couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.

Alberto Bufalino, the editor-in-chief of the Wake Forest Review, said that the emails are threatening the campus community.

“Many are worrisome, given the targeted nature of these emails towards specific faculty members and departments on our campus,” said Bufalino, a sophomore.

“The faculty are afraid, as this was a clear attack of intimidation targeted at several offices and individuals that work to make students feel more at home on campus,” Bufalino said in an email. “All students are concerned regarding these emails, any attack on our school community is an attack on all of us and the principles that the university is built on.”

The emails follow several other developments that have heightened concerns about racism and discrimination at the university in recent years.

A coalition of students, faculty and staff staged a rally in April and demanded that university officials immediately begin a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy.

A racist Instagram post on March 22 suggesting Wake Forest University build a wall to separate the institution from Winston-Salem State University sparked anger and concern on both campuses. Wake Forest University officials condemned the post.

In February, Wake Forest acknowledged racist images of students in blackface that were published in past yearbooks. Days later, photographs of Wake Forest students posing in photographs with the Confederate flag were revealed. Two of those students are currently WFU administrators.

In January 2018, a video surfaced of a white female student using a racial slur to describe her residence assistant. That student withdrew from Wake Forest.

In 2014, the predominately white Kappa Alpha fraternity on campus canceled a party off-campus with a theme about black culture. Before the party was cancelled, some white male students wore basketball jerseys, and some white female students wore short skirts with decorative tops to mimic performers in rap videos.

That same year, Imam Khalid Griggs, an associate chaplain at the university, found a bucket of urine in front of his office on campus.

Prison inmate charged in 1993 sexual-assault case in Winston-Salem

Police arrested a prison inmate from Winston-Salem on Tuesday after investigators linked him to a sexual assault that happened nearly 26 years ago, authorities said Wednesday.

John Henry Alford, 71, was charged with first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense and first-degree kidnapping, Winston-Salem police said. When Alford was arrested, he was being held in a state prison on unrelated convictions for other crimes.

On Nov. 3., 1993, officers went to a home on Cayuga Street on a report of a rape, police said. The victim told officers that an unknown man armed with a knife approached her as she walked on Cayuga Street about 8:30 p.m. in the city’s northeastern section.

The man then forced her to another area before he sexually assaulted her, police said.

Detectives investigated the incident, but they didn’t develop any leads. The case was closed as inactive on Jan. 11, 1994.

On Dec. 17, 2018, investigators submitted the case’s sexual assault kit for analysis at a lab as part of the state’s sexual-assault kit testing initiative, police said. The analysis produced a lead to the 1993 case and a link to Alford, police said.

Alford was convicted of first-degree rape in April 1978 and was given a life prison sentence, according to a state correction record.

During his imprisonment, Alford was paroled, police Lt. Eric Montgomery said. Alford was out on parole when the sexual assault happened in November 1993, Montgomery said.

Authorities returned Alford to prison for violating his parole, Montgomery said.

The specifics of the parole violation were not immediately available.

Alford was being held Wednesday in the Forsyth Correctional Center on Craft Drive with his bond set at $1 million, police said. He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 26.

Anyone with information about the 1993 sexual-assault case can call Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800.