Cannabis Law Reform Rally

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Last Update: August 2, 2012 10:44 PM

MARDIGRASS and drug law reform fiesta

Background History & Details of 1996 Event

Nimbin has changed a lot in the last 25 years. In 1972 it was like many similar rural villages of its size (about 100-odd people then) and economic makeup ie dairy and timber. Hit hard by changes in farm subsidies and market realities, northern NSW was going through a rural recession. Britain joining the EEC meant the protected butter trade from the colonies went out the window. The impact on towns like Nimbin was a reduction in revenue and then jobs, which in turn led to a population decline as people drifted to the cities and bigger towns looking for work. Nimbin was not totally destitute however. There was still a hard core, solid, conservative, hard-working and very traditional farming community remaining, but these weren't easy times. Nimbin, though, was about to change.

Probably it was inevitable that Nimbin would get picked up sometime by the seeming hordes of long hairs fleeing the cities clutching their "Whole Earth Catalogues" and redolent with the smell of patchouli, intent on "getting back to the land". The rural decline meant it was a village wide open for recycling and when the Aquarius Festival movers and shakers chanced upon it late in 1972, on an alternate return route home to Sydney from their number one choice location, Mullumbimby, it was seen as the perfect location for the Festival that they envisioned. All the infrastructure was here: the suitably decrepit Hall; the old butter factory and the empty shops so useful for food distribution, art and learning workshops, and administration and networking centres; the fields and river offered itself as a playground; the Nimbin Rocks and the breathtaking views of the Nightcap Range, a panoramic backdrop to it all. Verily it came to pass that God dealt Nimbin a full hand of hippies.

Cannabis had been around this area long before the hippies came, but on the North Coast in the '70's it became inextricably associated with the newly arrived counter-culture. It came to be seen and proclaimed by the traditional conservative politicians as the primary motivating cause for these new settler's rebellious rejection of the prevailing social norms. Un-natural things like forming and living together on land-sharing communities, doing direct action to stop the annihilation of the last vestiges of the public land old-growth rainforest, having babies at home and wanting to be involved in the education of their kids. Fuelled by local redneck outrage that sought more cops and harsher penalties, Nimbin's popularised media image became overwhelmingly one of a drug culture. And a sinful and out of control one for good measure. As Nimbin moved from sleepy hamlet to its current place on the mainstream tourist trail, this description came to be a self fulfilling prophecy.

For the alternative culture here, cannabis was a sacrament. A hardy plant, simple to cultivate, cannabis helped school a generation of hippie farmers on the realities of producing to serve your own needs- and more! This versatile, very generous and simple to process plant served as a comfort to the often harsh and primitive communard lifestyle, helping make the intolerable tolerable. It was undemanding of humans except by way of trust. And there was always the possibility of it generating a little cash flow. Nimbin acquired the reputation as a destination where your chances of scoring pot, without any insider knowledge or connection, was always good. What started as an outlaw fringe of alternative locals at the Rainbow Cafe turning their few plants into car registration, new shoes for the kids and maybe extensions to their shelter, gradually metamorphorsized into the hard bitten, highly competitive street hustle that's such standard fare on Cullen Street these days, with little respect shown for anyone or anything other than their own short term desires . Attracted by the nation-wide sensation seeking media publicity, the carpetbaggers arrived. Because the pot trade allowed access to a ready flow of tax free cash, Nimbin became the mecca for all those whose habits required a constant injection of money. The village became a way station on the heroin line, the pub flourished, options for change stayed limited under prohibition and attitudes continued to polarize.

Not only did this serve to obscure the bigger, broader vision of the counter-culture, but it provided the access way for authorities to hinder, harass, raid, intimidate, fine, jail and generally maintain a state of undeclared war on the original uppity newcomers and their striving for a culture. But the vision of a whole and healing community lifestyle persisted, the hippies hung in and in our own minor ways prospered. But as a legacy of our resistance we inherited the other darker side of the drug scene. A creation of the drug laws, the unregulated market in cannabis attracts a fast buck mentality which is contrary to the Aquarian ethos. Dressed in "hippie garb", the street dealers find shelter in the shade of our tolerance and in the process undermine our very roots and reason for existence. Resolving the illegal drug issue and the behaviour this promotes has become the acid test of the Aquarian vision and of our determination to manifest that vision.

For years the most common local public manifestation of the drug laws was fear. Fear that if you spoke out or made waves about the offensive Drug Offensive you'd become a target for official retribution. We smokers all had our little stash of plants, carefully tended and guarded and which at the time could result in prison if caught with them in our possession. Fear leads to compromise. Even if you were a non-user/grower of cannabis, public opposition to the drug laws and the dominant Drug War strategies was taken to be a sign of being "soft on drugs" and opponents were actively discredited. It was a totalitarian mentality that commanded obeisance. Any deviation were considered morally bankrupt. Meanwhile in Nimbin suspicion flourished as well. Who was a cop? Who was a potential rip-off?

In 1988 the first active "drug law reform group", Nearly NORML Nimbin started proposing drug law re-evaluation and review along with an immediate re-legalization of cannabis as a means of healing the growing disrespect on the streets. Most importantly we wanted to break the cycle of fear that played into the authorities hands and was dividing the local community. We limped along, lifting spirits- a lone voice in this ethically totalitarian atmosphere. We discovered Jack Herer and the "Emperor's New Clothes" along the way and transformed into Nimbin HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition). We ran sporadic but succesful political campaigns, maintained a media tactical response unit, held some great dances and other gigs, and developed a reputation as outrageous political players. With a growing support network and an increased public awareness of the issues,.we managed to keep Nimbin at the cutting edge of change, leading the NSW populist push against prohibition.

In March 1993, when the police made one of their post-summer clean-ups of main street dealers a spontaneous siege of the Nimbin Police Station resulted and the building was pelted with eggs and rolls of toilet paper. This caused some stridently scornful anti-Nimbin media publicity and so Nimbin HEMP, which by now had become the Nimbin HEMP Embassy, decided to hold a public rally to provide ordinary people with the opportunity to express their opposition to the drug laws in a peaceful, festive and non-confrontational atmosphere. May Day, Saturday May 1st was designated and so the Mardi Grass was born. Despite a lack of police participation and the stern opposition of the local council who refused us the right to march and use of the local park, over 1000 people, mainly local, came out in defiance and took part in a powerful ritual of personal and community empowerment. We paraded from the Bush Theatre uptown to the village centre, then on to the Police Station where we danced and wished the police well. To a tumultus percussion beat we returned to the Hall for our rally. The contact high was tangible for days afterwards and we vowed to Mardi Grass every year until prohibition's end.

The next year, the May Day "Let It Grow!" Mardi Grass and Drug Law Reform Rally (the official monicker) was held on Sunday May 1st accompanied on the Saturday by a National Conference called "Beyond Prohibition. This boasted an impressive array of politicians, academics and sundry experts in their chosen fields. The Parade/Rally, along with our annual Harvest Festival Ball and Pot Art Exhibition, became a two day Fiesta. We were still being officially frowned upon but legal advice had indicated that the Council ban on our use of the park was not legitimate. Despite gloomy forecasts of anarchy in the streets of Nimbin, we went ahead and repeated the previous year's joyful celebration parade and this year rallied in the park. By now the attendance was so big and the atmosphere so friendly, peaceful and responsible that the authorities were buckling under the strain of keeping face.

Last year's Mardi Grass was held in the wake of our End Prohibition NSW State Election campaign and just kept on getting bigger, with a veritable carnival of events running in association with the street Parade- more performance events, seminars, fashion parade, markets, the Inaugural Cannabis Growers Cup, the film premiere of the "Hemp Revolution", Jack Herer and Lynn Osbourne from HEMP USA, High Times magazine's grower's guru Ed Rosenthal, book launches and Operation Judas as well as Pot Art 3 and Harvest Ball. The Parade day dawned to spiritual gatherings, croissants with Jack and Lynn at the launching of the Australian edition of the "Emperor", and a mega-crowd (by Nimbin standards at least) filling the village. By now we'd given up seeking Council approval, without which we couldn't get the official Police nod, and just went ahead high on trust. The Police responded by ensuring the traffic continued moving on Parade day but otherwise kept a low profile during the festivities. Which resulted, surprise surprise, in a lack of any trouble in terms of violence, vandalism and any serious shows of interpersonal or environmental disrespect. For local traders the Mardi Grass was proving a monster boon for business with some shop-keepers having to close their doors in order to just deal with the crush of customers in their shops at that time. May 1st had by now slipped around the calendar to Monday and with the finals of the Cannabis Cup held just before our closing ceremonies that day, we became an over 3 day affair.

Drugs are always a hot topic and with world heroin production predicted to be doubling every 5 years, the potential consequences of a continuing drug war approach seem all the more calamitous for society. The NSW Royal Commission into Police Corruption has revealed to the public the otherwise obvious connection between official corruption and the drug laws. There's a visible panic happening with authorities as everything we've been saying for years is coming true but there appears little commitment by the politically expedient major parties to enact any fundamental change in approach. This makes it all the more imperative and apt that we continue to emphasize just how counter-productive the present regulations are. Bad laws only breed disorder.The Mardi Grass is now one of Eastern Australia's classic underground events. Despite minimal advertising or promotional publicity, we've always attracted big crowds, earned strong support and received wide and comprehensive media coverage. Since January, we've been receiving constant demands for information and accommodation bookings from all over Australia. At the moment it's impossible to anticipate what sort and size of crowd to cater for, but it looks big.

The reason we are holding MARDI GRASS is so that together we can make a powerful statement of the truth that the prohibition laws are a misguided and miserable failure. We will be celebrating our culture in a festive atmosphere of peace and fun and harmony. HEMP activists, artists and experts from all over the planet will be converging on Nimbin for a major empowerment ritual and a sharing of knowledge.

The Mardi Grass kicks off on Wednesday May 1st, our traditional rallying day, with appropriate, born-again, rustic Pagan Mayday festivities including maypoling, the arrival of the fabulous Kombi Konvoy, lighting of the Hemp Alternative Olympic flame and a special Koori music and dance night in the Town Hall, featuring Nunukel Kunjiel and Quandmooka.

Thursday there is an African dance workshop, the amazing Hemp fashion designers parade, and cafe cabaret featuring throughout in the village cafes. Friday's the Full Moon and the night of our legendary Nimbin Marijuana Harvest Festival Ball which features top local bands- the Acid Pixies, Pagan Love Cult Inc, Terra Sancta and the Spliffmasters, and the dancing Cannabis Can Can, Ganja Fairies and the Sativa Sisters. This follows a day of choir, lantern-making and bellydance workshops. Pot Art #3 will have become a visual reality by then. On Saturday: the inaugural HEMP Traders' Trade Fair will open in the Hall, seminars, forums and think fests will run throughout the day, markets, a culinary exhibition, Puppets in parkland, the lantern making continues and will culminate in the Sunset Moon Lantern Parade and fire ceremony. This will be followed by another big dance night in the Hall with locals Klang, Ragadoll, Bush Punk Cowboys and Dr Seuss' Signature. Sunday opens with sunrise chanting and spirit healing, and is the day of the Parade. This heads off from the Schools Bus Turnaround at 1.30 pm and will be followed by a monster rally and the Finals of the Hemp Olympics ( including the bong obstacle course relay, joint rolling, bong throwing and the Commissioner Woods Cross Country Pursuit of the "Bent Cop"). Late afternoon sees the final session in the judging of the 1996 Mardi Grass Cannabis Cup, a screening of the Australian film "The Hemp Revolution", the lighting of the beltane fire and burning of the wicker-woman, and then more music and performance events to take the weekend out.

Market stalls and music, HEMP board game contest, random Ethnocultural tours of Nimbin by the Alternative Town Council, forums and street theatre, Pot Art #3, excerpts from the Nimbin Player's production of a reworked Canterbury Tales (including the Muller's Tale), hemp videos, an MARDI GRASS Information stall and the Nimbin Hemp Embassy's Drug Education Centre and multi media port will be on-going throughout the Fiesta. Plus other such oddball spontaneously scheduling activities that we can't even begin to foresee at this point in time.

But that's just the Gig itself. Most of all, though, it'll be A FESTIVAL OF THE SPIRIT. A celebration of life and a blow against the absurdity of bad laws. Stating the truth about prohibition and ourselves, openly, together and in a non-confrontational way we not only celebrate ourselves but become part of the solution. If Nimbin was anywhere else in the world we'd be considered a spiritual centre. Like the great and wildly peaceful religious Festivals of India, the Mardi Grass is an opportunity for us all to affirm strongly, peacefully and proudly all that we are.

It gives us a chance, too, to open up to the world, the fruits of our settlement here in Nimbin, all the things that ordinarily get eclipsed in the current drug centered focus of the popular press, to a sort of semi-public scrutiny. . The permaculture gardens, alternative energy systems, community recycling works, the land-sharing communities movement, the affinity groups like the Nimbin Environment Centre and Nimbin News, schools, community health networks and other support systems, the Nimbin Museum, the diverse local enterprise and the World Heritage Rainforests that we live beside- all that is beautiful and vibrant and healthy about life here. We love our town and are proud to be of this place and land. The nasty side of life so often portrayed here reflects nothing other than the behaviour of some desperate expensive-drug users under prohibition. These same drug laws that cause these problems also restrict our capability to do anything about it. Like change the system of marketing. We would like it for visitors who come here seeking pot to be able to openly, safely and cheaply purchase it in Kafes, like in Holland, without being intimidated, ripped off or forced into supporting the hard drug economy. Be patient- we're working on it.

We welcome you here for our 1996 Peace for Pot Mardi Grass and in doing so also ask your consideration and respect to the spirit of the land, the residents, the village buildings, the trees and all other species who consider this special place home. Born from the frustration of enduring years of counter-productive prohibition laws, the Nimbin "Let It Grow!" Mardi Grass has become a positive statement of the imperative to direct our own destiny and to not blindly accept the dominant paradigm. To create a healthy world we need a sound and ethical base. To begin with: let's make Peace for Pot!

When Injustice Becomes Law, Resistance Becomes Duty....and in this case Fun!

Written by End, Prohibition, March 1996.

for the Nimbin Hemp Embassy.

Patron: the Plantem


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