Pubdate: Mon, 08 May 2006
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2006sThe Australian
Author: Annabelle McDonald


A RECORD number of riot police descended on the northern NSW hippie
town  of Nimbin, but not even the packs of police on foot and
horseback could stop the pungent smoke billowing from all corners of
the town's Mardi Grass  festival.

About 6000 people poured into Nimbin -- a former dairy town  described
by its own state MP, Thomas George, as a "slum" -- bringing their
tents, Kombies, bongo drums and fairy wings along for the weekend.

Many openly puffed on joints from breakfast onwards, defying the state
laws that prohibit the sale and possession of marijuana and other
drugs. More than 30 police patrolled the town at any one time, while
competitors in the Hemp Olympix battled to win the bong-throwing and
joint-rolling competitions.

Shopkeepers did a roaring trade, even selling pre-rolled joints over
the counter. NSW Police Minister Carl Scully had promised Nimbin would
no longer be "a post-70s hippie no go-zone for police", with officers
clamping down on drugs in the town this year.

But squad after squad of police dressed in riot gear walked past the
entrance  to the hemp cafe yesterday, choosing to ignore the clouds of
cannabis smoke coming from the pot smokers inside.

However, police arrested 11 people in Nimbin on cannabis possession
charges. They also set up two road blocks at Uki and Goolmangar on the
roads leading into  the town, arresting another 32 people on drug
possession charges. Richmond Area Commander Bruce Lyons said the
increased use of hard drugs such  as ice, speed and heroin in the town
had prompted police to significantly boost  their numbers this year.

"Drugs like amphetamines and ice make people a little more
unpredictable and they can often turn to violence. As the emergence
grows, the community tends to  get more violent," Superintendent Lyons

'We are not turning a blind eye. But Nimbin is a complex town ... no
other town in Australia has shops that, as part of the furniture, have
a stretcher so  that when someone overdoses they are able to say
'stretcher' and they come out  and put this poor person on a stretcher
and wheel them down to the hospital." Sniffer dogs were used
intermittently at the road blocks, but Superintendent Lyons said he
ordered the dogs to be kept away from the town. One hippie joked:
"That's because the dogs would have a heart attack -- they wouldn't
know where  to start."

Some residents of Nimbin, a town with a population of somewhere
between 300 to 400 people, said they felt intimidated by the strong
police presence, but others remained unfazed.

"It's like the plains of Africa here and the pot smokers are the
wilder beasts," said popular didgeribone (part didgeridoo, part
trombone) player  Charlie McMahon. "The cops are like lions, and every
now and then they just pounce on one of us."
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