By Connie Leinbach
Legalization of marijuana, gambling on ferry boats and other offbeat items have appeared on several of the Hyde County commissioners’ agendas this year for discussion by Ocracoke Commissioner John Fletcher.
Fletcher, 76, has yet to talk at a commissioners’ meeting about some of these ideas but did so in a recent interview.
“I think (marijuana) should be available for medical reasons particularly,” he said while on his Cedar Road porch discussing several others issues with a reporter. “Pain medication costs a lot of money and if you could grow your own marijuana you could save a lot of money.”
It’s an idea other states have embraced recently, and while this idea in North Carolina is at best a pipe dream given the current political climate, Fletcher thinks Hyde County should start the conversation.
“I don’t see why we can’t be in the forefront (of approving medical marijuana),” he said in his drawl, which is a cousin to the Ocracoke brogue. “There are not many against it here.”
He was referring to Ocracoke, many of whose populace tends toward liberal/libertarian politics, but mainland Hyde would have a different slant.
“None of the other commissioners are for it,” Fletcher said with a chuckle.
Nonetheless, he would like to see the commissioners pass a resolution supporting the use and growing of medical marijuana in Hyde.
This idea follows one he broached in February about installing slot machines on the long-route ferries as a revenue generator.
“I’ve been on international ferries with slot machines that generate a lot of money,” he said in that meeting. “We can stay like we are or we can go do something different. We’re stuck here with the federal and state government wanting fees. It would bring tourists year-round to this area.”
Fletcher’s gambling suggestion was met with a tentative response by the other commissioners.
“We’ll think about it,” said Barry Swindell, chairman of the board.
“It would take a (new) law to even allow that,” said Timothy Hass, spokesman for the NC Ferry Division.
Las Vegas-style gambling is allowed only on the properties of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, but citizens have access to gambling with the state lottery.
An item Fletcher put on the September agenda was simply “red neck IDs.” While this, too, got tabled, Fletcher explained that a redneck ID is a tattoo. Since “some people consider tattoos less than acceptable,” he said his suggestion is for those county employees who have tattoos to be discreet about them while at work.
“It’s about the image for the county—both men and women,” he said.
Fletcher is also a proponent for “open meetings,” stemming from the Ocracoke Deputy Control Group’s meetings before and after Hurricane Arthur on July 4 at which some members felt the press should be excluded. This request was sanctioned by a state emergency service worker Charles Tripp who was on the island at the time. Tripp told the control group that none of the control groups around the state allow the press.
Fletcher had advocated for the press to be in attendance, saying that if those on the committee were concerned, they should watch what they say.
“The reason for open meetings, especially for this county, is because there’s no county-wide newspaper,” he continued. “One way for people to know what’s going on is to attend meetings.”
Another item the commissioners may eventually consider is Fletcher’s idea of a “half-fare” ticket for a same-day trip on the long-route ferries. During the week, the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries are not full.
“It might be better use of the ferry if visitors could buy a one-day round-trip ticket to Ocracoke for $15 (instead of paying $30 for both ways),” he explained. “(More visitor traffic) would benefit the people on the mainland and the merchants here.”
He said he’s also working on a draft resolution for a special waiver for residents to return quickly to the island after hurricane evacuations.
This idea differs from the staged re-entry procedures in place by the county Emergency Services department by allowing residents to come back as soon as the ferries are running, along with emergency personnel. Currently, the re-entry procedure calls for EMS and essential personnel first and residents second; then property owners; then visitors.