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Byron Shire
April 15, 2024

Comment: Giving a hand at MardiGrass

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David Heilpern is a retired NSW Magistrate having sat in regional and rural NSW for over 20 years. He is an Adjunct and Practice Professor at Southern Cross University, and is Director of “Drive Change” an organisation dedicated to law reform in the area of drug driving, with particular emphasis on prescribed cannabis patients.

In 1992, I travelled to Auschwitz concentration camp and it had a profound effect on me. I realised that when good people remain silent evil is much more likely to triumph.

And so I became determined to speak out on issues that mattered – one was the imprisonment of so many clients for cultivation of cannabis.

Not saying that the war on drugs and the Holocaust are in the same league, just that the grave injustice in my face decimating our community was the cannabis eradication helicopters.

Thus began my involvement with MardiGrass.

I spoke at the first rally in 1993 and a grainy record of my brutalist call to arms exists.

I had hair. I swore a lot. Twenty-nine years later and people are still dying in the never-ending political beat up war on drugs. Sigh.

Going back

Next weekend I brave the drug driving detection blockade and return to Nimbin to speak again, like last year and every year in the nineties.

I won the bong throwing competition in 1995, and judged the joint rolling for years, which was a highlight.

One year, the winner was a helicopter, the entire thing was joints and the rotors spun when the smoker sucked the tail.

There was a scandal when we discovered the roller was only 16. (Oops).

Some say MardiGrass is just preaching to the converted – maybe – I prefer to see it as rallying the troops. But what can I say that is different, not just another groundhog day diatribe?


In the middle of the night I had a eureka moment – I thought to make my speech more theatrical this year.

The first option I toyed with was to just stand up, approach the microphone, and say “Portugal”. And then sit down.

Twenty-two years since they decriminalised all drugs there, it has led to fewer young people using, a reduction in overdoses and less drug related crime.

There is zero thought there of going back. We don’t need more studies and research and debate and Royal Commissions. There is a living, breathing, gold plated experiment called Portugal, which proves the law reform harm reduction hypothesis beyond doubt.

Of course, the downside of the one-word speech concept is that then people just leave. And shamefully my ego struggles with that.

I mean, I have an hour to be the centre of attention and I just say one word?

The second option I considered was to drag a mate of mine who is bedridden and just about dead onto stage left – oxygen, medical team and all.

On stage right is a person smoking a joint.

Then the doctors could actually kill my mate with the euthanasia drugs, and after he shuffles off his mortal coil in front of everyone, I point out that one of the two activities on stage is legal.

And one is not. It is legal to kill, but not to imbibe.

Pretty dramatic eh?

MardiGrass! Photo Tree Faerie.

Armless fun

Then the third option came to me, which involved the same joint smoker on stage left, but me with a lectern and a chainsaw on stage right.

If I start the chainsaw with both hands, but then rest my left arm on the lectern, I reckon I can operate the chainsaw with my right hand and cut my left arm off completely.

Then, given my prediction that I would have the crowd’s attention, I would point out that my actions were totally legal, if potentially lethal, but that stoned smoker over there was committing an offence and could go to jail for two years.

We could then move to the Q&A while I got stitched up.

And naturally, cannabis being a cure-all, I’d heal pretty quick.

Drug laws are not, and never were, about community safety or harm reduction.

They remain stupid and illogical.

They divert resources away from real crimes like child sexual assault and domestic violence.

Maybe I could just replace Portugal with Thailand or the Australian Capital Territory, where common sense prevails?

Anyway, I have chosen option three. I’ve added some props like a bucket and earmuffs to comply with MardiGrass Occupational Health and Safety rules.

BYO stomach

Come along to MardiGrass and watch if you have the stomach for it. Immediately after me is the Hemp Olympics, where you get drug tested and can’t compete unless you test positive for at least one prohibited substance.

The added bonus with option three is it lends itself to perhaps the best dad joke ever.

Keep in mind a great dad joke has several essential elements.

First there is the pun, hopefully a double or even a triple whammy.

Second it must be eye-rollingly annoyingly obvious.

Third it must be repeated – often and especially in enclosed spaces to avoid avoidance.

And finally, it must be said, not written, to make most sense.

Why did the lawyer cut off his limb at the MardiGrass?

‘Arm reduction.

David Heilpern is a former magistrate and is Dean of Law at Southern Cross University.

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  1. David didn’t mention it, but it’s clear as mud to me that drug prohibition laws are there to prop up the profits of the other, much bigger drug and their makers and distributors.


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