Nimbin, once hailed as Australia’s cannabis capital, has become ravaged by ice
For years, Australians and tourists alike would flock to a laneway in the north of NSW, where cannabis was sold in the open, and sometimes even given away.
But a string of high-profile arrests in 2015 and 2016 ended the trade, which saw Nimbin locals grow and sell kilograms of the intoxicating plant every day.
Now, the northern town is plagued with ice and other drugs, with people overdosing and dying on the streets, and the police are powerless to stop it.
Michael Balderstone, the President of the Hemp Embassy in Nimbin, says outsiders have come into the town to peddle amphetamines and other chemical drugs – but it wouldn’t be happening if marijuana was legalised.
Dozens of men, known as the ‘Lane Boys’ were arrested and charged in 2015 and 2016 over their roles in the widespread dealing of drugs in Nimbin. In February, many of them were jailed or handed suspended sentences, and most were banned from returning to the town.
Mr Balderstone said having the men removed from the town has opened a vacancy now being filled by outsiders with no ties to the locals.
Dozens of men involved in the procurement and dealing of cannabis in the town have been arrested, charged, and some even banned from the town in the past three years
With marijuana now more difficult to come by, dealers of ice and other chemical drugs have been moving in on the market, causing deaths in the street
‘Taking [the Lane Boys] out of Nimbin has left a huge hole, being filled by outsiders who don’t have the same respect for the community, and a lot of kids who are less afraid of going to jail, who have less respect for the system,’ he said.
‘We’ve now got random people dealing all sorts of drugs. There’s a whole different attitude.’
Mr Balderstone says things have changed for the worse in the small northern town, with drug paraphernalia, signs of addiction and overdoses becoming commonplace.
‘To a certain extent the cannabis market has now been taken over by other drugs,’ he said.
‘A lot of users are poly-drug users, they’ll take whatever is around, they’re just looking to alter their outlook.
‘Needles are more prevalent around town. We’ve had a few overdoses, quite a few dead in the last 12 months – definitely more than we were having before [the lane boys’ operation was dismantled].
‘I certainly know there have been deaths in the street in public.’
Michael Balderstone (pictured) is the president of Nimbin’s Hemp Embassy, and says over the past year, things have changed for the worse in the small northern NSW town
Mr Balderstone says it is common to see needles lying around town, and says the new dealers have no respect for the community
The Hemp Embassy president also claims the newcomers are quite young and not afraid to be prosecuted or face jail
Of course, drugs like ice and heroin are not new to Nimbin. While the main trade is cannabis, other, harder, drugs have been available in the town.
Mr Balderstone says this is simply the product of prohibition – and claims sales of these drugs would dramatically drop around the country if cannabis was legalised.
‘The black market means all drugs get mixed up together,’ he said.
‘But there are a lot more [chemical drugs] now, and we just need to have some regulations with cannabis… bring it out of the dark, have some quality control.’
The President of the Hemp Embassy said some residents of Nimbin had moved to the town to be able to access cannabis easily with the intention of using it to get off other drugs.
Mr Balderstone says while he doesn’t know exactly who is floating the market for hard drugs, he suspects these people would be customers.
‘I don’t know who is buying it, but Nimbin has a lot of people who have used cannabis to get off other drugs – ice, heroin – it’s great for handling withdrawals,’ he said.
‘Nimbin is full of alcoholics who don’t drink, they smoke pot instead – they use it so they’re not on heroin or ice.’
Cannabis use has been a fixture of the town for decades. Mardi Grass, which will be held this year from May 31 to June 3, is an annual law reform protest which attracts visitors from around the world
Mr Balderstone said if cannabis was legalised, ice use in Australia would markedly decrease
On Monday, Greens Party leader Richard Di Natale announced a plan to legalise cannabis for adult use.
‘The war on drugs has failed. Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,’ he said.
‘We need to get real about cannabis. Almost seven million Australians have tried or used cannabis socially but right now just having a small amount of cannabis in your possession could get you a criminal record.
‘Cannabis accounts for most illicit drug arrests across Australia and each year cannabis consumption and arrests are growing.
‘Prohibition has failed. Using cannabis remains illegal, but this has not stopped Australians from using it.
‘As a drug and alcohol doctor, I’ve seen that the “tough on drugs” approach causes enormous harm. It drives people away from getting help when they need it and exposes them to a dangerous black market.’