Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2001
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2001 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: John Jiggens


Mardi Grass 2001, Nimbin's famous cannabis festival, began, as they 
say, in high spirits in perfect autumn weather on Saturday. The 
Lismore papers had been full of rumours of impending police sniffer 
dog raids, which, fortunately, didn't occur. If any of those poor 
animals had walked down the main street of Nimbin during the past two 
days they would have gone crazy.

Having grown out of a protest in 1993, when Nimbin's pot smokers 
organised a rally against heavy-handed police raids, the festival has 
mushroomed into a major celebration of Nimbin's resistance to the 
cannabis laws. In 1994 we saw the advent of the Cannabis Cup, awarded 
to the grower of the best buds of the season; in 1996 came the Hemp 
Olympix. Along with the Dope Pickers' Ball and the Hemp Harvest ball, 
these events form the core of the two-day festival.

During the Mardi Grass, laws relating to cannabis possession and 
supply are so relaxed as to be virtually non-existent. The police 
tactfully retreat and security duties are taken on by the locals in 
an operation called the Jungle Patrol.

For this festival, the main street was closed and given over to 
pedestrians, stalls, drummers and fire-twirlers.

On the first night, Nimbin's famous street murals were floodlit for 
the first time. Thousands had arrived for the festival. As far away 
as Byron Bay, all the backpacker hostels were full.

A notable addition this year were Cannabis Cafes, the result of a 
call by the Nimbin Hemp Embassy for a Cannabis Cafe trial. They were 
well organised and well patronised - one cafe reported sales of 700 
joints on Saturday. The effect on the street dealing scene was 
apparent - much of the buying and selling took place off the street, 
creating a friendlier, more family atmosphere. "The large trade 
across the cafe counters makes a lot of sense. A lot of people just 
want to buy a joint for $5 and you can't buy a $5 deal on the 
street," said organiser Michael Balderstone.

As well as the sporting events, there were forums on industrial hemp, 
medical cannabis, seed swaps - and a lecture called "Cloning the 
Clone". A panel on pot politics discussed the formation of a NSW Hemp 
Party. Independent MLC Richard Jones, a long-time critic of the drug 
laws, urged a campaign which would put both major parties last 
because of their abysmal record on drug law reform.

As usual, the Hemp Olympix proved extremely popular. The events 
included speed and artistic joint rolling, the bong throw and the 
growers' ironperson.

The ironperson is an endurance event based on the conditions facing 
guerilla marijuana growers in the Nimbin hills. According to Chibo, 
the man who designed the event, the idea was to highlight just how 
much hard work guerilla farming can be.

Because of regular police raids, Nimbin farmers grow their crops a 
long way from home, which means carrying large bags of fertiliser and 
buckets of water. To hide their tracks from the air, many guerilla 
farmers crawl under lantana for the last part of their journey.

All this is simulated in the growers' ironperson. On the first leg, 
contestants lug a 42-kilo sack of fertiliser round a 100-metre 
course. On return they pick up a large pail of water and run the 
second leg carrying that. On the third leg they run unencumbered, but 
have to crawl through a lantana tunnel.

On Sunday, a large group of Ganja Faeries led the protest parade down 
Nimbin's main street. Dressed in faery green costumes adorned with 
marijuana leaves, they held up large pot leaf-shaped placards and 
danced the samba. It took 45 minutes to pass, prompting estimates of 
a 10,000-plus crowd. At the rally, Green MLC Lee Rhiannon announced 
she would introduce a bill for Cannabis Cafes in NSW. "The day will 
come when they no longer have these rot ten laws and we will all 
celebrate the way we are today."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh Sutcliffe