Pubdate: Sat, 11 May 2002
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2002 News Limited
Author: Emma Tom


THE judges of the Cannabis Cup share many characteristics with wine 
tasters. Spitting out the entries isn't one of them.

"How can you tell how good the dope is if you don't inhale?" says one 
seasoned adjudicator. "Obviously we all end up terribly stoned  but that's 
the price we're willing to pay."

The Cannabis Cup "smoke-off" is the high point of the annual Nimbin Mardi 
Grass, held in far north NSW last weekend. This idiosyncratic and at times 
uproarious gathering attracts up to 10,000 people and started back in 1992 
as a political rally against helicopter raids and drug laws.

In an interesting parallel with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, some 
Nimbinites are complaining that the event has become flippant and 
mainstream, a party rather than a protest.

Old-timers bemoan the $10 a day entry fee (up until this year it was free), 
the emphasis on cannabis rather than all drug law reform and the inflated 
prices of modern-day marijuana.

The youngsters, meanwhile, would be happy if there was more dance music and 
less of that 1970s May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You hippie shit.

"Last year, my son Romany and [the son of the founder of Mardi Grass] 
organised a doof party during Mardi Grass more or less as a direct response 
to what they viewed as the commercialisation and trivialisation of pretty 
important issues," says Neil Pike, a local musician and activist.

"Many of the young people that had come to Mardi Grass were looking kinda 
worried before this. Some were starting to think that maybe pot did cause 
irreversible brain damage, turning you into the sort of boring zombie that 
really got off on bad Neil Young covers and endless marijuana minutiae."

To outsiders unfamiliar with local politics, the idea of an illegal drug 
festival becoming too commercial is kinda amusing. In fact, the closest 
thing to commercialism on the main street of Nimbin last Saturday morning 
is the barbecued-sausage spruiker.

"Sausages only $2," he bawls. Not that he really needs to spend so much 
energy on promotional stunts. His only real competition in the 
non-vegetarian stakes is the house up the road advertising $1 kittens.

Down in the mud bath of Peace Park, the starter's pistol fires for the Hemp 
Olympix. First up is the speed roll, which involves manufacturing a 
three-paper standard joint at a cracking, F1 pace. Next comes the artistic 
roll, in which competitors use unlimited papers to craft space shuttles, 
dolphins and weird lumps, which make sense only if you are really, really 
wasted (one entrant claims her lump is "the potential of a harmonica"). All 
entries are then tested for smokeability.

The growers iron person event, meanwhile, is best categorised as a blood 
sport. This gruelling contest replicates the rigours of growing bush 
marijuana, with contenders required to race through a punishing obstacle 
course carrying 40kg bags of fertiliser before scrabbling through a leech 
and tick-infested lantana tunnel with buckets of water.

"You got a nice patch somewhere out there, son?" the comperes call at one 
lurching athlete. "Come on, stoner!" The crowd seems unperturbed by the 
sight of pale, iron-deficient vegan-types collapsing under the weight of 
whoppin' great sacks of Dynamic Lifter. Fortunately, St John ambulance 
volunteers are on hand to revive the fallen.

"Growing dope is like that  it's really hard," says organiser Michael 
Balderstone from Nimbin's HEMP Embassy. "You don't see many fat hippies."

Out-of-towners stick out like greyhound balls in Nimbin, so I sign up for 
the bong throw to prove I am not an undercover narcotics operative or 
sniffer dog in disguise.

The exact purpose of the bong throw is unclear. Some say it is supposed to 
simulate the rapid disposal of marijuana apparatus during raids, but 
Balderstone maintains it's a public health warning about the dangers and 
general tackiness of Orchy bottle bongs.

"Our message is 'throw out your second-rate bongs'," he says. "When plastic 
heats up it releases a lot of chemicals, but there's also the garden hose 
issue. You can't leave a hose in your front yard in Nimbin. It'll disappear 
three inches at a time." At first glance, my fellow bong throw competitors 
seem a motley bunch with their dreads, tie-dyed singlets and mud-caked 
thighs. But their knowledge of the physics involved in hurling a plastic 
bottle full of fetid bong water through foggy mountain air is second to none.

"Underarm or overarm doesn't seem to make a difference as long as you keep 
the water in the bong for as long as possible," says one elite thrower. His 
demonstration toss is not a good example. It arcs wildly to the left and 
hits a bunch of spectators on the head. Their delayed and somewhat drowsy 
reaction suggests outrage is beyond them.

"That's the great thing about running this festival," notes Balderstone. 
"Once everyone gets stoned, they don't care what happens." Even if they did 
care, the HEMP Embassy has it all covered. Unlike so many other Australian 
events, Mardi Grass has been able to secure public liability insurance for 
nearly all its program.

Despite at least five minutes of rigorous preparation, my bong throw is a 
limp and wayward affair that nearly wipes out a couple of middle-aged women 
dressed as ganja faeries.

Not that anyone is watching. The weekend is drawing to a close and there is 
a frisson of excitement around the $5 raffle ticket vendor. The prizes are 
not crap meat trays. They're coveted seats on the judging panel of the 
Cannabis Cup  the infamous competition designed to identify and honour the 
growers of the region's best pot.

At 5.30pm on Sunday, the raffle is drawn and 12 winners are driven to a 
secret location with a handful of guest judges and industry representatives.

"We got off the bus and walked into this absolutely beautiful house coming 
face to face with two big tables, one covered in an absolutely amazing 
smorgasbord and the other groaning under the weight of the biggest 
marijuana heads I have ever seen in my life," reflects Bob Tissott, a judge 
from Nimbin's community FM radio station.

"They were 15ft long [4.5m] and as thick as your wrist. We walked round the 
table squeezing, sniffing and scratching, then the call came to start 
smoking and there was a melee, an absolute feeding frenzy. After that, 
everyone got very, very quiet." The winner was No 2, an "indoor organic" 
entry grown by a couple of brothers about 300km west of Nimbin. According 
to pundits, the strain's distinguishing characteristics are a soft and 
furry appearance and a flavour redolent of Juicy Fruit gum.

Marijuana enthusiasts will be gratified to know that  for the time being, 
at least  this award-winning product remains out of police custody.

The only Mardi Grass participant who ran foul of the law last weekend was a 
parade-goer who'd dressed as a policeman. Apparently his fake sniffer dog 
was unregistered.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart