Ronald Reagan, 1980 campaign speech1: "Leading medical researchers are coming to the conclusion that marijuana, pot, grass, whatever you want to call it, is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States, and we haven't begun to find out all of the ill effects, but they are permanent ill effects. The loss of memory for example."
Democratic Party platform on marijuana: "Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization." See: Full text.
"Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 208 members (89.3 percent) received a passing grade of a 'C' or higher. Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 102 members (33.8 percent) received a passing grade of a 'C' or higher."
As you can imagine, having the H*E*M*P Bar and its live web cam shut down and a sign on it's door saying "Gone to Mardi Grass" meant I was in a bit of a sticky situation from an 'organizational' point of view. Fortunate for me, the previous decades worth of 4 20's had left such an impression in the minds of all the hardcore repeat MardiGrassers, that I almost didn't need to mention it, but, mention it I did. At 20 minutes past the hour ,every hour, on the main festival sound system I talked up the event. MardiGrass Saturday was a very POLICE intensive atmosphere, road blocks around the town, riot squad in bullet proof sunglasses every where you looked. I urged everyone if they was going to smoke one joint all day, let it be at 420 today when they could light that joint in global unity with the millions of other people all around earth who will also be lighting up at 420. And I always make a point of asking that when you do light up at 420, let it not be an act of defiance, let it be an act of peace, a sharing, a celebration and a thing you do every day at 420 until the law is changed.................... Peace for Pot ------------ Pot for Peace
Best part is that outside the H*E*M*P Bar wasn't the only venue for the 420 Demonstration, H*E*M*P President Michael Balderstone did a HUGE 420 Demo in Peace Park, Captain Reefer did another in Allsop Park, the Stage down in the Markets did a 420 and pretty much everyone everywhere was part of the Demonstration and if I had to add one last thought it would be that 4.20 PM on Saturday was about the only time that the main street of Nimbin had that traditional smoky mardigrass look to it, no arrests were recorded by the police at 4.20 or in the 30 minutes after. Over 15,000 people attended this years www.NimbinMardiGrass.com and everyone of them
Nimbin tale: Site of the annual "First weekend in May" Nimbin MardiGrass, Nimbin is unique. Once a sacred initiation site for the Bundjalung tribe, it was originally "settled" by white Europeans in the very late 19th Century. Basically that means we clear-felled as much of the forest as we possibly could, fenced it off from the local Kooris and proceeded to wipe out any of them that objected to being uprooted, brain-washed and totally cut off from their traditional lands and way of life... It's a familiar story.
Within a couple of decades the white guys had pretty much run out of trees and so they started looking around for a NEW way to turn a buck. Sticking a whole bunch of heavy-footed European cows on the recently cleared slopes seemed like a good idea at the time, and so within ANOTHER few decades the once pristine forests surrounding this area had been transformed into an expanse of denuded, eroding cow pastures. Meanwhile the arse was busily dropping out of the international market for Australian meat and dairy produce. Ho-hum...
By 1973, Nimbin was almost a ghost town. Luckily for the local real estate agents, a bunch of long haired student radicals from the Australian Union of Students arrived seeking a site for a national student counter culture life style event called the Aquarius Festival. They had taken a left turn at Mullumbimby, chose Nimbin promising the village residents that Aquarius would "recycle the town".
Cut to 1993 - the same deserted dairy town has been transformed. The building and shop fronts are a garish yet somehow compelling collage of full blown psychedelia and traditional Bundjalung art. There's more cafes, craft shops and backpackers than you can wave a traveler's cheque at and the stinky sweet smell of ganja is positively enveloping the street. This definitely AINT Byron Bay.
Down the centre of the main drag of this tiny, tripped out tourist town, there's a huge throng of people, laughing, drumming, chanting, DANCING towards the local cop shop.
Dozens of them are helping to carry a huge smoking joint with "Let It Grow!" painted in 4 foot high letters on the side. Others are holding banners and placards calling for change - an end to drug prohibition, the legalisation of cannabis, an end to the drug war.
Many are openly smoking pot as they drum, sing and humba their way towards the suddenly vacant-looking police station. One dude is on stilts, wearing a huge cardboard helicopter he's made in mockery of the annual pot raids that Nimbin has suffered for more than a decade. Paradoxically, not one person looks angry.
What the f*ck is happening here?
Why, it's the first annual "Let It Grow!" MardiGrass Fiesta and drug law reform rally.
A thousand local "alternatives" (the politically correct way to say "hippies") finally spitting the dummy, coming out of the closet and in true 60s in-your-face street theatre style pointing out to the jaded apathetic mainstream that the drug wars just aren't working.
That night on the national news the Australian general public was faced with the bizarre spectacle of a bunch of aging hippies, their off-spring and an ever-growing army of young and old recruits joyously breaking the cannabis laws en masse and demanding a change to the drug laws. Not only has the war on drugs left a deep and unpleasant impression on our idyllic, lotus-munching existence (the hippies seemed to be saying) but these days it's seriously f*cking with YOUR way of life as well.
Ever since the '73 Aquarius Festival, Nimbin has had a strong tradition of civil disobedience of the drug laws. The cops tried to bust someone for pot in the middle of the festival, but were quickly (and peacefully) overpowered by the crowd and the "criminal" disappeared into the seething hairy melee. This was nothing new at the time.
The same kind of spontaneous rebellion had happened at the Sunbury rock festival the year before, and was of course a regular ingredient in the Vietnam protest movement of the sixties and early seventies.
By the late 80s however, people's willingness to take these kind of measures had markedly diminished... even in a place as supposedly pot-soaked as Nimbin. The U.S.-driven "War On Drugs" was in full swing. In the cities, the psychedelic, sacramental dealing circles of the sixties had long ago been replaced by more commercial, well-oiled interests. Smack was available everywhere in Australia. Hope was extremely unfashionable.
Those in Nimbin still clinging to their hippy ideals were pretty much trying to keep their heads down... at least as far as drugs were concerned. Regular invasive police helicopter raids were just a fact of life. The general wisdom seemed to be that showing an interest in drug law reform was as suicidal as walking into a police station smoking a joint.
Despite this generalised paranoia, a few brave souls were consistently stirring the pot.
Beginning in 1988, a series of public demonstrations, press releases and politically motivated events kept emanating from Nimbin, all of them hammering the same basic point ... the drug laws are a miserable, socially destructive failure.
At first, these words of wisdom only seemed to be coming from one person, Bob Hopkins, a Nimbinite who conducted a vigorous and extremely effective one-man campaign against the drug laws.
Gradually other folk began to get involved. Michael Balderstone (the owner of the local "hippy" museum) and David Heilpern (a lawyer and activist who later became a magistrate) were among the early ones.
By 1993, a small but dedicated bunch of folk had coalesced around the name "The Nimbin HEMP Embassy". Their press releases and activities had consistently kept the issue of drug law reform in the spotlight of the local media and more and more people were coming out in support of what they had to say. The time seemed right for a larger display of local public feelings. Hey presto, the first annual Let It Grow! MardiGrass and Drug Law Reform Rally was born.
The first MardiGrass attracted a crowd of about 1000 people and much publicity. The day went off without a hitch. It was a huge success.But controversy raised its ugly head when the Plantems 13 year old daughters photo holding a marijuana plant appeared in national newspaper 'The Sydney Morning Herald' and later, adult magazine 'The Underworld' including an interveiw with her, raising questions about child safety. Never the less, by the next year, many more local people were openly supportive of the event. That year, the MardiGrass rally was preceded by a conference and seminar which attracted politicians, academics and health professionals from all over Australia. In a tradition that has continued to this day, the crowd doubled over the previous year's numbers... 2000 people paraded through Nimbin calling for an end to the madness, prejudice and social chaos that masquerades as drug prohibition.
In 1995 the first MardiGrass Cannabis Grower's Cup was held.
The year 1996 saw the beginnings of many events that have since become intrinsic to the Mardi Grass. The HEMP Olympix had its inaugural year, as did the Kombi Konvoy and the Hemp Traders Trade Fair. The now-legendary HEMP Olympix comprised pothead contests around joint rolling, bong throwing and, for the more physically-minded, a Growers Ironperson competition. For this contestants pitted themselves against the odds in outlandish tests of strength such as crawling through lantana tunnels dragging large bags of fertiliser.
The Kombi Konvoy opened the 96 Mardi Grass and has done ever since. A procession of variously decorated Kombi vans winds its way from nearby Lismore, arriving at dusk in the crowded lantern-lit streets of Nimbin. Led by the Olympix torch-bearer, the Kombis eventually park in a circle and the crowd forms for the opening ceremony.
Thus begins a weekend of song, dance, speeches, workshops, poems, pot art exhibitions, hemp trade and fashion shows, drug law and drug health information exchanges, seed swaps, magick, myth and joyous, stoned civil disobedience and political demonstration.
Finally on the last day, a lucky few settle down for the Cannabis Cup.
Based (very loosely) on the Amsterdam event of the same name, the Nimbin Cannabis Cup is a nice mellow wrap-up to the heightened chaos of the previous few days. A rather broad selection of the best local buds is tasted, toked and tested by a smattering of card-carrying "expert" judges, eventually choosing a winner. If you don't make it as a judge however it doesn't really matter. Just like in Amsterdam, there's so much good pot everywhere that anyone that does make it to judge status is usually too stoned to tell anyway.
The MardiGrass has grown stronger and larger every year and the Nimbin HEMP Embassy has continued to stay at the forefront of drug law reform activism worldwide. Several large scale smoke-ins and demonstrations have been held outside police stations and courthouses, political candidates have been run (and polled quite highly), a television ad campaign was run requesting people to dial-in to a safe number and report any cases of police harassment or corruption. All this plus maintaining a high-profile drug education outlet in Nimbin's main drag.
One of the more interesting actions was the helicopter blockade in January 1997. Finally sick of the annual hippy-bashing helicopter raids that the police had been mounting every year, the HEMP crew and friends decided to do something about it. With a little ingenuity, they found out where the chopper squad was staying and where they'd parked the chopper for the night. Early the next morning, the cops awoke and opened their motel room door only to be greeted by the rather unnerving sight of one or two hippies chained underneath their wagons, a whole bunch of hippies waving and laughing at 'em from across the car park and a veritable swathe of camera-toting press all clicking and whirring and taking notes right next to those god damned hippies.
Needless to say the hippies had a very articulate and convincing press release ready about the waste of public money inherent in sending a bunch of gung-ho cops on double-pay in a very expensive helicopter to circle and swoop above the local communes and come back with a pathetic payload of what could only be described as personal stash.
Meanwhile on the other side of Lismore another couple of Hempsters were slowing things down by chaining themselves to the chopper. The press loved this story, and the cops?
Well, the cops just shook their heads, got in their little, blue wagon and went away. To this day, the helicopter squad has not returned to Nimbin.
All of these events lend colour and strength to the MardiGrass.
Last year's was a huge success and this year promises even more. As time goes on and the crowd grows, it's interesting to watch the demographic changing. These days, the old-school hippies are well and truly out-numbered by the whole array of society's archetypes. Many of these are just as counter or sub cultural as the hippies (punks, ferals etc). The vast number of them however are just plain, ordinary suburban working people. Many of them are there with their kids. Not all of them smoke pot, but they all know someone who does and they all agree that it's time for the drug laws to change.
It's ironic but somehow typical that the drug law reform movement should find it's most vocal and public face in a place like Nimbin. The MardiGrass gives voice to frustrations and problems that are vexing the whole of mainstream society, but most people aren't quite brave enough to express this to their neighbours. In the anonymity of a "freak-fest" like MardiGrass, many people are quite prepared to stand up and be counted. This is vitally important as a first step, but it's only when there's a MardiGrass happening in every town and when every pot smoker puts their hand up that the laws will change. It's too easy for the mainstream to ignore protest when it just happens in Nimbin.
So come this year to MardiGrass, but remember that it's a drug law reform rally and not just a pot party. We're there to make some points not just to get out of it, and remember to take some of the magick, idealism and commitment home with you when you go, there's enough to spare. Neil Pike 2004 http://www.nimbinmardigrass.com
Republicans think they can spend an infinite amount of money (many trillions of dollars) on health-insurance-company-based healthcare, and have an infinite number of babies, to feed their appetite for endless ground wars, and for more inmates for more prisons for more drug war.