A moat-like ring of ‘crocodiles’ (police drug testing units) around the two-street town of Nimbin wasn’t enough to deter thousands from this year’s famous MardiGrass festival and anti-prohibition march.
Nimbin HEMP Embassy President, long-time drug reform campaigner and in more recent years, some-time political candidate, Michael Balderstone, said he was surprised at the high turn-out, given a heavy police presence on streets surrounding the rainforest village.
At least 2,500 people attended the festival on Saturday but Mr Balderstone said many more came to march on Sunday, driven – sometimes literally – to protest for drug law reform thanks to a continued campaign of police roadside drug testing in NSW.
Concerns over increased alcohol consumption in lieu of recreational pot-smoking
Mr Balderstone said he spent much of the weekend listening to stories of regular MardiGrass attendees who said they no longer smoked cannabis for fear of losing their drivers’ licence and had taken up drinking alcohol instead.
He said many of the claims came from tradies, who typically rely more on car transport than most other workers.
‘The consequences of what they’re doing are starting to emerge,’ Mr Balderstone said, referring to concerns around impacts of alcohol consumption such as domestic violence.
‘People don’t picked up driving on mushrooms, acid or opiates,’ he continued, questioning the agenda behind a targeted campaign against cannabis.
Traffic cops like ‘crocs in a moat around Nimbin’ but village police ‘cool’
While Mr Balderstone described police in charge of roadside drug-testing over the weekend as ‘totally reckless, hunting and chasing people just to catch a Kombi’, he said police presence within the festival was low-key.
The Nimbin police station had not long ago acquired a new female seargent, he said, who he thought could have been apprehensive about overseeing MardiGrass for the first time but was probably happy in the end.
‘I reckon the police in town were generally very cool,’ Mr Balderstone said.
A spokesperson for the Richmond Police District that includes Nimbin was unavailable for comment.
So many pot advocate punters, Nimbin ran out of munchies
Prior to the festival starting on Friday afternoon, Mr Balderstone had told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom he thought the intense RDT presence around the town would put people off coming.
But whereas past festivals have featured a sodden Hemp Olympics and bedraggled cannabis advocates trudging up and down the main street in the rain, this year’s punters had just a few showers to wet their appetites and the town’s hospitality venues reportedly ran out of food.
‘We underestimated the crowd,’ Mr Balderstone said, ‘we didn’t have enough food stall at the festival’.
Meanwhile, it was standing room only at the festival’s programmed talks, which Mr Balderstone said he thought were some of the best so far in MardiGrass history.