First up for our international readers a quick bit of historical background.
Nimbin is a small town in the hinterland of Northern NSW and has been known as a haven for alternative lifestylers and having a cannabis culture since the late 1960’s.
The Mardigrass festival is the result of the Australian “Stonewall of cannabis” demonstration that took place March 1993.
After a decade of raids and arrests, and a particularly intensive recent period of random street searches, arrests and rough treatment of locals and visitors to the town, a spontaneous demonstration erupted, and marched to the police station, pelting it with eggs and toilet paper.
Negative newspaper reports followed so the Nimbin Hemp Embassy (formerly “Nimbin Hemp”) members decided to hold a peaceful protest in a non-confrontational atmosphere, that ordinary people could comfortably attend, on 1 May 1993.
That was the first MardiGrass. (The spelling is that officially used by the MardiGrass Organising Body) The MardiGrass Organising Body (MOB) was formed to manage the event and consists entirely of volunteers. The intention is to hold a MardiGrass every year until prohibition ends.
The first MardiGrass – 1993 (Wikipedia)
In March 1993  the Nimbin police station had already been laid siege. Undercover police officers had been discovered buying cannabis in the area. This enraged a small portion of the townsfolk to such an extent that they chased the police officers back to the police station and pelted them with eggs. Concerned about bad publicity some of the townsfolk decided to come up with a more peaceful form of protest that ordinary people could comfortably join. Bob Hopkins (a.k.a. The Plantem) was the man who came up with the idea of MardiGrass.
On 1 May 1993  people gathered by the local creek for the rally. They also had a good time with their colourful bright clothing coloured with dye of food colouring. Bob, dressed as a nun led the people while blowing on a tuba. There was only a small group at the start (along with a giant joint made of a large sheet and other assorted household goods).
The big joint acted as a giant magnet for the townsfolk. By the time they reached the police station they were, by most accounts, over a thousand strong.
Shortly after, backup arrived, but not before the media who began to broadcast images of the event to the country and world. The cops found themselves in the unenviable situation of not being able to act against the townsfolk. They were unable to use aggressive force against them on camera, and as such watched on as the protesters marched forward.
In the evening of this historic event, Bob Hopkins channelled the spirit of the Plantem for the first time and he and his friends,after adopting Winston Churhills V is for victory sign,vowed to hold MardiGrass annually until the war on cannabis was over.
Now… fast forward to 2019 Mardi Grass has become a regional institution and has, over the last 30 odd years, passed off with little or no fuss.
Reports from this year’s event on social media suggested unusually heavy handed police tactics and now an article published 18 June by Australia’s Junkee Media illustrates the effort the state and police force put into “policing” the event.
Journalist Sam Langford writes….
Every year, the northern NSW town of Nimbin hosts MardiGrass, an event that’s part festival, part protest, and 100 percent committed to all things weed. Naturally, a celebration of all that cannabis has to offer attracts a fair few cops, and we now know how much the police spent on MardiGrass in 2019: more than a quarter of a million dollars.
How do we know this? Well, NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge asked about it in Parliament back in May, and according to an answer given by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, 133 police attended the 2019 Nimbin MardiGrass, spending a total of 2,036 hours on the event.
The minister did not actually answer Shoebridge’s question about how much those 2,036 police hours cost, but thanks to the magic of the internet it’s possible to make an educated guess. After all, the NSW government famously requires certain high-risk events to pay for their own police presence, and while MardiGrass was not required to foot the bill for the cops, we can get a sense of what they would have been charged if they had.
According to the NSW Police Cost Recovery and User Fees and Charges, police attending “special events” like festival and fairs cost $130.90 per hour, including GST. There are additional fees involved for police cars and other vehicles, but if we calculate the cost based on that hourly rate alone, those 2036 police hours cost at least $266,512.
As for the what the police spent that quarter of a million dollars on, the Minister for Police reports that 2,408 mobile drug tests were conducted within 30km of Nimbin MardiGrass, with 68 drivers arrested for secondary testing. Meanwhile at the festival itself, 90 people who were searched were found to have drugs, and 45 were fined, cautioned or charged as a result. Cops also raided the Nimbin Hemp Embassy a day before the festival. We can think of better ways to spend a quarter of a million dollars.
“Police resources would be far better spent on preventing and responding to real crime, such as domestic violence and white collar fraud,” Greens MP David Shoebridge said.
“Instead we have the NSW police wasting over a quarter of a million dollars policing a festival that celebrates a drug that is legal in a growing number of places around the world.”
“These figures prove once again that the war on drugs is an expensive failure. We need a new, realistic and evidence-based approach to drug policy that reflects the reality of people’s lives.”
NSW Police declined to confirm the amount of money it spent on MardiGrass, providing the following statement instead: “The annual Mardi Grass Festival at Nimbin is a major event which has been running for 26 years. These large-scale events see police conduct operations both in the main township and in the surrounding area. Our top priority is and remains the public’s safety. The New South Wales Police Force will not comment further on resources utilised for such events.”
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