Festival puts focus on law reform

A cookie seller at MardiGrass has a friendly chat to some of the police officers on duty at the annual cannabis law reform festival, which drew a record crowd despite the police presence.

Organisers of Nimbins 16th annual MardiGrass festival and cannabis law reform rally have praised police for allowing the record crowd to enjoy themselves but have questioned the cost of the big crackdown on Nimbin in the lead-up to and during the festival.

Despite the visible presence of mounted police and riot-squad officers in and around the township throughout the weekend, an estimated 15,000 people descended on the centre of Australias alternative culture for the festival.

MardiGrass highlights the beneficial uses of industrial and medical hemp as well as urging decriminalisation of the growing and possession of cannabis for personal use.

Controversy marked the lead-up to this years event with police, including a riot-squad contingent from Sydney, raiding the township on April Fools Day, seizing an amount of cannabis leaf, cookies and cake.

And last week, police successfully applied for a court order which closed down two Nimbin icons the Hemp Museum and Hemp Bar for the duration of the festival, on the suspicion cannabis had been sold from there in the past. Organisers described the move as provocative, however, they believe the crackdown has renewed interest in the reform of cannabis laws.

Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Embassy spokesman Michael Balderstone said this years festival was certainly different with so many police, compared to a few years ago when two or four police managed the entire weekend and pot was freely smoked throughout the village.

It was a great MardiGrass regardless, and we want to thank the NSW Police for re-invigorating interest in cannabis law reform, he said. Oppressions bring out the true believers, and we heartily thank the hundreds of volunteers, both local and international, who missed much of the festival to create it for the rest of us.

Mr Balderstone said organisers would also like to know what police operations in Nimbin since the April Fools Day raids cost as police had not provided that figure.

Its very frustrating for us with so much obvious public support for cannabis law reform, which our parliamentary representative refuses to acknowledge. At what point do we review the consequences of giving so many of our young people criminal records for life, or even jail experiences? he said. The disrespect for authority caused by prohibition does enough damage on its own to warrant changing the laws.It was repeatedly said at the forums that years in jail does nothing to change peoples attitude towards cannabis; smokers do not believe they are criminals.

Richmond Local Area Command Superintendent Bruce Lyons has defended the high level of policing, saying the police presence was appropriate for the increased number of people attending and that drug use and dealing in the town would not be tolerated.

Supt Lyons said he accepted the right of festival organisers and participants to make a political statement about cannabis laws but police would not turn a blind eye to cannabis use.

The test for us is when mums and dads can walk down the main street of Nimbin with their kids and not be exposed to drug dealing or harassed by drug dealers, he said.

The closure of the museum and bar showed police were fair dinkum about stamping out drug dealing in the town.

He said police had acted fairly by issuing cautions, rather than arresting people, for minor cannabis offences.

When he walked through the MardiGrass crowd he was approached by many people praising police for their efforts, with some telling him they did not feel intimidated by the police presence, he said.

He said there was very little violence at the festival with only two assault charges laid, but a total of 85 people were either cautioned or charged for minor drug offences, with two people charged for supplying a prohibited drug and three charged with having suspected stolen goods.

A drug sniffer-dog operation held outside the township resulted in 42 detections, mainly for cannabis, with a small amount of amphetamines and ecstasy found. Of those, 38 were cautioned and four were issued with a court attendance notice.

Officers also conducted more than 2500 random breath tests on roads around the township with eight drivers charged with drink driving offences.

Hundreds of people were also warned for breaching alcohol-free zones in Nimbin with a large quantity of alcohol confiscated and disposed of.

Mr Balderstone praised that aspect of enforcement, saying police kept control on any alcohol abuse which was appreciated because its where our problems mainly come from.

For the first time in MardiGrass history the Nimbin A&I Society opened up the Nimbin Showground for parking and camping, providing much-needed funds for the Societys coffers. Mr Balderstone said the joint venture was a huge success and hopes it will become a permanent fundraiser for the society as the showground was packed to the brim all weekend.


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