Australia's Mardi Grass: 10,000 hippies, police and marijuana

Australia's Mardi Grass: 10,000 hippies, police and marijuana

The 19th annual marijuana festival pits Australia's smokers against NSW Police for a weekend of fun, games and a certain smokable plant
Mardi Grass
The big joint rolls down Nimbin's main street during last year's parade.

More than 10,000 marijuana activists and hippies are due to descend on the mountain village of Nimbin, about 780 kilometers north of Sydney, for the 19th annual Mardi Grass Festival this weekend.

Ever since revelers stayed put after the 1973 Aquarius Festival, an event sometimes described as Australia's Woodstock, the tropical region has been the dope growers' capital of Australia.

It’s home to characters like the long-bearded, alien-spotting “Rusty” Harris –- who attracted musicians and flea markets during his 20-something court appearances while successfully appealing a marijuana possession charge.

The green activism rolls on. Sunday’s parade will see a cavalcade of Kombi vans, an inflatable joint and a barrage of outdoor music.

Michael Balderstone, president of the Nimbin Hemp Embassy and spokesperson for the Mardi Grass, said the event was a “cannabis cultural gathering.”

But it’s not all love and peace in the town. Although a history of tolerance by local police officers saw the community create a Christiania-like anarchical village, marijuana is still illegal in New South Wales.

“Community police relations have broken down quite a bit over the last few years,” Balderstone said.

Police and drug dogs

Mardi GrassPolice make an arrest during last year's Mardi Grass Festival.In 2006, the New South Wales riot squad policed Mardi Grass –- accompanied by sniffer dogs –- and arrested scores of festival goers.

For all the fun and games of the Growers’ iron man event, joint rolling competition and bong throw, organizers are concerned about the police presence. Villagers have even scattered marijuana leaves around Nimbin to lead any sniffer dog ambush astray.

Local area commander, Superintendent Matt Kehoe, said sniffer dogs would not be attending this year's event. “It’s a hard area for dogs to operate in,” he said.

Around 100 local police are expected to be on duty at Mardi Grass over the course of the weekend. But Kehoe said, “The community supports the festival -- our aim is to ensure a peaceful festival and target anti-social behavior.”

Land of ganja

Balderstone said that festival highlights will include The Cookie Queen giving cooking lessons, hash-making workshops and an attempt to break their own world record (not recognized by Guinness) of the most joints lit at once.

In this green land of ganja, the most anticipated event is the "Cannabis Cup": A secret meeting of growers where the region’s best marijuana is judged.

“The undercover cops are always trying to find out where the Cup is,” Balderstone said. “But they’ve never cracked the Cup.”

Mardi GrassThe Bong Girls at last year's festival.

Nimbin Mardi Grass 2011, April 30 and May 1, Nimbin,