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AUSTRALIA CELEBRATES MARDIGRASS: In A Country That Still Outlaws Cannabis A Small Town Shows Their Pride

By: Scott Pearse

A heavily pregnant local woman chosen to be the MardiGrass fairy goddess adjusts the costumes of her fairies. The parade begins on the other side of Nimbin and pushes through the growing crowd lining main street. Glitter is strewn in abundance. Colour is everywhere. The parade is led by the local Bundjalung people, offering a smoking ceremony to lead the paraders across their ancient land. Before the true revelry begins there is a somber pause in front of the Nimbin police station. The police standing lined up outside guarding their station. The standoff is quiet and tense. Member of the MardiGrass organizing committee, Andrew Kavasilas explains, “It’s not the local police’s fault. They’re the meat in the sandwich, but at the upper echelons the police are the rotten meat in the sandwich and that fact can’t be lost, especially during MardiGrass.”

Once the parade turns down main street, the fun begins. Outside the Hemp Embassy, the political fortress at the centre of Australian cannabis activism, the hemp fairies dance around their queen, the assembled crowd cheers as floats of local activists dance and wave, celebrating the one day a year when hedonism triumphs over drug laws. The fight continues but today we party. A monumental joint arrives, made of fabric and 40 feet long. Written down its length in psychedelic colors is “LET IT GROW.” Hoisted aloft by hands, the big joint sails above the crowd, all eyes cast upwards watching its progress, hands offered to continue its rise then pulled back careful not to set the whole thing ablaze with joints held between fingers. Revelers climb on parked Kombi vans for a better view. The air becomes hazy with pot smoke. The police stand and watch. The outlaws number in the many hundreds.

Nimbin MardiGrass is celebrating its 25th anniversary as Australia’s largest cannabis culture gathering with a mission to bring about change by the most entertaining means possible. In a country otherwise conservative in its approach to marijuana, the tiny town of Nimbin is an oasis. Running May 5th through the 7th, the three-day festival is a celebration but also hosts the serious business of cannabis activism at the Hemposium. By night attention turns to live music at the Growers Ball.

For many, the festival’s highlight is the Hemp Olympix. A patch of grass in town is transformed into Sativa Stadium, crowds gather to watch athletic events. The bong toss where competitors throw a bong as far as possible, the longest throw on the day crowns a champion. The Growers Iron, a grueling event where local cultivators simulate some of the more strenuous tasks in their daily schedule, ferrying water from source to garden and carrying bags of potting mix, all while completing an obstacle course in front of cheering crowds. It’s a two -ay event and only the fittest survive.

We asked organizer Andrew Kavasilas what he’s most looking forward to this year, “The joint rolling competition.” Competitor Bob the Builder has been the joint rolling champion for so many years barely anyone can remember the exact number. But last MardiGrass his heroic string of wins came to an end when Luke Summ became the new champion. According to Andrew, “Bob has a pacemaker now. I think he had a new battery or it was low last year, but he’ll be charged up this year. Bob just builds joints. He’s been the showpony of the whole event.” And are the competitors taking their rivalry seriously this year? “Oh yeah, Luke trains all year. Full hemp diet. He’s a true athlete. You can pick any drug test you like, he’d fail them all.”

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