Nimbin Mardi Grass 2019 – Drug Enforcement
Nimbin’s Mardi Grass has been running since 1993, as an annual protest-festival or ‘protestival’, calling for changes in Australia law’s prohibition of cannabis. Nimbin itself has long been known as a counter-culture capital in the north of New South Wales, with many people moving from more suburban and urban areas during the early 1970’s to the forests around Nimbin, just inland of Byron Bay.
The Aquarius Festival in 1973 was held in and around Nimbin by the Australian Union of Students and marked a definitive alternative cultural shift, not just for the local area but for the entire nation. Robbie Swan has previously spoken to Enpsychedelia about his involvement with the early festivals through the University of Canberra and AUS and the early rumblings of the broader culture war we see today.
MARDI GRASS 2019 HEMPOSIUM
I’d been meaning to make it up to Nimbin for at least a decade, but finally got the opportunity to head up and see Mardi Grass and the town in full flight. The Hemposium conference is on in the Nimbin Town Hall and brings together speakers, mainly focusing on cannabis.
While there, I presented a short talk and a panel. The talk focused on the history of the synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (colloquially: synthetic cannabis, though I loathe this term), especially how they came to be marketed and sold as ‘legal highs’, how the government responded and what this response shows for the failings of prohibition.
The panel focused on Australia’s Roadside Drug Testing (RDT) program, which promotes itself as a ‘road safety initiative’, but has little evidence to support that campaign. Each year it is costing tax-payers more and more, all the while promoted as keeping roads safe while removing thousands of drivers from the roads with equipment that has nothing to do with making roads safer.
Speakers on the panel were:
Both talks will be airing on a future episode of Enpsychedelia.
HEMP EMBASSY RAID
The Mardi Grass weekend began with a 30 officer strong raid of the HEMP Embassy on Thursday, one day before the town’s biggest event with preparations well underway. A sniffer dog unit was run through the town, including over the 50 volunteers who were in the HEMP Embassy preparing for their various roles this weekend.
Representatives from the HEMP Embassy told Enpsychedelia that the 7.5kg of leaf was intended to make cannabis salves and other products intended for medical and therapeutic uses.
The 500 pre-rolled joints were damiana joints and contained no cannabis. Damiana is not an illegal plant (and what a ridiculous thing to have to say).
ROADSIDE DRUG TESTING
A quick re-cap on the RDT program.
It was first introduced in the mid-2000’s following research conducted at Swinburne University in Melbourne which concluded (separately) that the Securetec Drugwipe devices can in fact detect whether or not someone has taken drugs at some point, and that you can feed someone enough drugs to make them poor performers at simulated driving tests.
Never have the two studies quite met up to demonstrate that a level of drug detected by the DrugWipe device correlates with a level of intoxication leading to someone being impaired on the road.
Despite this, the program spread from Victoria across the country and has been growing ever since. The program is widely touted as a ‘road safety initiative’ and police regularly give statements and interviews to the media, claiming to have ‘saved lives’ by removing ‘drugged drivers’ from the road.
This is despite the fact that each state’s law is clear that the offence is having a detectable amount of a drug in one’s body, not of being impaired. If someone is believed to be impaired too, they fact extra charges.
Let that wrap around your mind for a second. You get a SECOND charge if the police believe your drug driving is actually dangerous to the roads. Otherwise, you still get charged for having taken drugs at some arbitrary point in time a few days ago.
The RDT program over the weekend of Mardi Grass made 65 positive indications. Each test costs around $50 for the device itself, without counting police time and peripheral equipment and resources.
The breakdown of indications is as follows. Please remember that MDMA shows up as methamphetamine on the DrugWipe device, giving an artificial impression that methamphetamine is of a greater popularity. NSW is also the only state in Australia to test for cocaine.
28 were for cannabis, 14 for cocaine, 12 for methylamphetamine, nine for cannabis and methylamphetamine, and two for cocaine and methylamphetamine.
We’d love some figures on the costs of activities like this and know that people like David Shoebridge MLC are seeking this information in NSW. We know that there were three separate RDT sites running simultaneously for the entire weekend and that there were several thousand people through Nimbin for Mardi Grass.
Bare with me, these are some really, really rough figures. Just to give you an idea of the sort of (probably conservative) estimate of these sorts of operations.
The testing devices alone could have been $50,000+ (1000 tests at $50 each), with around six officers working at each RDT stop receiving an average hourly wage of $50. That’s 18 officers across three sites and presumably being paid time and a half Saturday ($75 p/h) and double time Sunday ($100 p/h) working from early morning into the evening – potentially two six hour shifts (8am – 2pm, 2pm – 8pm) for 12 hours of RDT operation.
That’s $16,200 for Saturday, $43,200 for Sunday on wages and $10,800 for both Friday and Monday. Total of $81,000. Again, probably conservative estimates here. It’s likely that some officers with RDT are specially trained and receive a higher rate of remuneration. Many are also from out of the local area, likely attracting other costs such as accommodation, food or transport.
This is already closing in on $150,000 for time and tests alone. There are many more costs on top of that.
If this were definitely about road-safety, I suspect many people wouldn’t be bothered by the figure. But then there are the endless stories from those charged, who claim to have not taken an illegal drug in the past 24 hours. And the admission in the charge itself that these people are not being penalised for driving under the influence.
And then there are the flow-on effect of suspending someone’s license for three months (soon to be six months), especially for those living in a regional area or those relying on their car for work.
THE BATTLES ON-GOING
From sniffer dogs to the RDT, car searches and public strip searches, huge penalties for relatively harmless drugs and an endless pursuit of prohibition, the war on people who use drugs continues to be enforced and enjoy political favour. Prohibition continues on, with more drugs added all the time and penalties seemingly ever-increasing. Never with a politician asking, “Did this work last time we tried it?”
Support Nimbin if you’re in the area and make sure to pop by the HEMP Embassy and say hello.