Cannabis is prohibited under NSW law. Any activity involving cannabis is illegal - possessing it, using it, growing it, and supplying it. All cannabis offences are dealt with in court, except if you qualify for a "cannabis caution" and police decide to caution you instead.
Nimbin is a tiny town in northern NSW with a bad reputation. It's on the backpacker route and thousands of young people arrive in buses every week. It became the marijuana capital twenty five years ago when hippies arrived with their alternative lifestyle culture and a few decided to stay.
It's a bizarre situation, drug dealers blatantly sell illegal drugs right under the noses of police so are they doing enough to clean up the town? One police officer who doesn't want to be named said "Drug use here is incredible, we walk from one end of the street to the other, someone yells 'taxi, taxi, taxi' and everyone disappears."
At the end of a lane, five "lane boys" sit around a table underneath a big tree. "They are back in town at the moment, a lot of the dealers have grown up here but most live on the Gold Coast now" the officer said. Police take wads of cash off the dealers but the courts give it back. Most sales take place on Friday when everyone comes to town for Bongo Night, the going rate to tourists is $140 for half an ounce.
Det Insp Greg Moore, based in Lismore, is in charge of 190 officers and he has 9 officers at Nimbin. "Nimbin is known the world over for its drug culture and the numerous buses that come in daily make it hard to ensure the same level of compliance with the law that we have in the rest of the state. There could be a higher level of enforcement if we had more officers but we've got to be responsible with the resources we have" he said.
Tourists keep coming to Nimbin to buy marijuana, it's a matter of supply and demand, but the rights of the individual hamper police efforts. "If I stop you on the street" one officer said "I have to tell you the reason why, and make sure your rights are not impinged. It makes it tough when you've got a barrister and self-proclaimed solicitors giving you advice."
On the Nimbin Hemp Embassy website, they tell you what to do if you get caught.
- You do not have to say anything to police, whether they arrest you or not
- It is usually better to say something like 'I do not wish to say anything until I get legal advice'
- Beware of small talk and being trapped into a conversation, just tell them your name, age and address.
- If you admit anything, or say something that sounds like you're admitting something, the police can use that in evidence against you.
So there are three opposing points of view in Nimbin. The locals say their town was taken over by a bunch of no-hoper dole-bludgers twenty five years ago who have never worked a day in their lives; the alternative lifestyle folk want things to stay the same, and police seem to be fighting a losing battle.
According to the 2011 Census, 11.6 per cent of Nimbin's population is unemployed which is more than twice the national average of 5.5 per cent. "You've got people living off the dope" the officer said. "They are all getting Centrelink benefits and making cash deals, it shits me."