In case you’ve never heard of it, Mardi Grass is an annual festival in Nimbin in NSW, celebrating all things pot. Harsha Prabhu went along. You’re probably not going to guess the rest… it’s Mardi Grass, after all. Images by Kim Maree.
It is the Friday of the 26th annual Nimbin Mardi Grass & Cannabis Law Reform Rally & Gathering. I’m in Nimbin, and the Medicine Buddha (MB for short) is late for his rendezvous with his favourite disciple.
I’m loitering with intent at the Oasis Cafe and wondering how I’m gonna score a smoke. Fer fark sake (as the Mad Irishman would say) it’s Mardi Grass! Just sniff the air!
I sniff the air, but, thus far, it seems criminally devoid of any whiff of strong THC. Instead, I smell lots of testosterone from squads of young members of the constabulary, who are parading around town looking lost for something to do and nervously chewing gum in anticipation of some action, like cow-cockies at a rodeo.
Black vans with RIOT SQUAD stenciled on them cruise the streets.
No doubt MB is even now negotiating one of the many police roadblocks, armed with his personal pharmacopeia of mints, aniseed oil, apple cider vinegar and ommanipadmes as a prophylactic to fool the roadside saliva drug testers. May the Four Dakinis of the Ganjarealms protect him as they have thus far. No doubt he will sail through with his usual, unholy imperturbability.
But how to satisfy the grinning ape of my THC addiction?
When in doubt, go to the top. I head for a certain building across the road. This is a hive of activity, flickering computer monitors, Jungle Patrol crew with dark blue caps with ‘POLITE’ written in white (instead of POLICE, which they kind of are, except the Nimbin Mardi Grass version) and, in the midst of all the Mardi Grass last minute mayhem, good old Mr X, aka the Pope of Mardi Grass, at a computer terminal.
I pounce on him: “Mate, got a smoke for an old vet of the first Mardi Grass?” I ask in my best wheedling voice, marinated in some 25 years of cadging smoko at all the Mardi Grasses I’ve been to. He gives me the look, then decides it’s better to humour the ape than argue with him, and ducks into a room at the back.
I follow him till he says, “You can’t come in here.” I look around and spot my friend Delightful Dorothea (DD) at another computer. She gives me a grin and a hug and I’m in – in the bowels of the building. Capsules of what look to be a yellow coloured substance line little trays; pipets and dark amber bottles are on shelves. Stacks of info sheets are everywhere. “What’s that?” I ask DD, pointing to the capsules. “Oh, that’s just CBD oil”, she says, smiling brightly, “for those in need.”
Holy Houdini! CBD oil!! The Holy Grail of Health!!! This is the moment I’ve dreamt of ever since my two Japanese naturopath-and-yoga-teacher friends started rhapsodising on social media about the benefits of CBD, with pics of their glowing faces and downward dog-poses to add to their testimony.
Will I get lucky today? “My feet are sore as hell from a gouty condition and I’ve popped painkillers to make it to Mardi Grass, Christ strike me dead if I’m lyin’,” I say to DD. I will, as DD slips me a pill. X slips me something as well so I repair to the patio to count my blessings.
The patio seems to be operating as a de-facto medical marijuana treatment centre. Clients are queuing up to consult what appear to be barefoot ganja medicine men and women, picking up medication for themselves or their terminally-ill relatives. They come to Nimbin from everywhere. One couple is from across the border in Toowoomba; another man looks subcontinental, from India or Pakistan. Their stories, told in urgent whispers to folks taking down their case histories, some of which I catch, paint a harrowing picture of their search for cures to the terrible maladies that afflict them or their loved ones. And the difficulty of sourcing medical marijuana.
I speak with one cannabis ‘doctor’. Let’s call him Springsteen, an intense, wiry man of indeterminate age with a spring in his step, a former social worker who stumbled on this new path via personal need and amateur interest. He tells me the CBD oil is imported from Canada, from a state-of-the-art lab. It’s expensive as moondust and I baulk at the thought of asking for the price list.
Currently, CBD oil is entirely legal in Australia – but only if prescribed by a GP for certain specified conditions. According to Michael Balderstone, one of the organisers of the Nimbin Mardi Grass, “…you can only get cannabis if you’re nearly dead.” Further, doctors willing to prescribe medical cannabis are rare as hen’s teeth – something like one doctor for every million of Australia’s population. No wonder the nearly dead and the almost dying and their carers are flocking to places like Nimbin to source the stuff.
First, what is CBD? According to wiki, ‘Cannabidiol, abbreviated as: CBD, is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis… CBD does not appear to have any psychoactive effects…’ According to Springsteen and the info sheets he hands me, CBD oil, in varying doses, is recommended for a host of ailments, including, but not only: cancer, blocked arteries, seizures, diabetes, inflammation, pain, anxiety and is an immune-booster to boot.
CBD oil is also claimed to help balance the body’s endocannabinoid system. One sheet, put out by Epilepsy Action Australia’s and quoting Dr Dustin Sulak, says: “Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.”
The maintenance of a stable internal environment despite external fluctuations sounds like something the Medicine Buddha ordered. And what my grinning ape with a gouty foot and frozen shoulder – not to mention sundry garden-variety ailments – deffo needs a dose of. I mention my gout to Springsteen; he holds a whispered consult in passing with another barefoot cannabis doctor, this one in rainbow-hued tye-dye outfit and actually barefoot, who whispers a cryptic reply to DD who is hovering nearby. As if on cue, DD slips me a bottle of CBD oil in olive oil.
DD also gives me a copy of ‘Voices From The Real World’, hundreds of testimonials from individuals using cannabis medicines throughout Australia between late 2015 and early 2018. Each testimonial is unique; I’ll just give you one, skimmed from the back page: “ I have Stage 4 terminal cancer. I’m 49! Tincture is a Godsend. Thank you!!! Was 2 months to live at Christmas 2014. Now they say 5-7 years left. Yay!!! Just do it!!!”
I stumble into the golden winter sunshine of the Nimbin street gorged on CBD and THC goodness and the kindness of my friends and, clutching at the medical marijuana literature and the booty I have scored, grope my way back to the Oasis. I barely have a moment to bask in my new-found inner homeostasis when my chakrafield is seriously dented and I am brought to ground by the logical lightsabers of Bo Peep, musician, activist and, yes, grassroots cannabis doctor.
“CBD is synthetic, mate. It’s corporations trying to make a buck from people’s suffering. There’s enough research to show ya gotta use the whole plant with all the cannabinoids, the healing oils and enzymes. That way we don’t rely on corporations; we can heal ourselves.”
Peep’s right. The whole plant is credited with offering the best medicinal potential. And, while continuing to target pot users and restricting the availability of medical marijuana, including arresting pioneers like Anthony Bower, the government is talking industrial-strength trials in the near future, with large corporations waiting to pounce on the billion dollar potential trade.
And it does look like a bum deal from the Nimbin end of things: not much has changed these last 25 years since Nimbin began celebrating and protesting over pot – except hemp foods moving from the pet and cosmetic section to the ‘fit for human consumption’ section; and a few medical marijuana prescriptions. And a whole lot of people in jail for petty marijuana offences, especially folks who are young and Aboriginal. And now the Man wants to promote marijuana!
The Mardi Grass has just begun and I find myself in the middle of a CBD vs THC, or even an individual growers vs corporations, or an ultimate Nimbin vs The System standoff.
So has Peep pooped on my Mardi Grass party? Only if I allow him, says my inner homeostasis. And why choose now? Perhaps I can continue to be the fence-sitter I am on most things. I dose myself and some friends with the CBD oil and olive oil mixture, procured via the Danish lab and, not to appear unfair, also sample some THC via individual growers in Nimbin.
“I can see your aura’s taken a bit of a bashing, but it’s slowly beginning to re-establish its essential drug-fucked state,” says the Medicine Buddha, as he materialises into a chair next to me. “Suck on this like a good man,” he says, passing me a stoinker.
Great! My personal spiritual trainer has given me the all-clear. I almost blush and break out into goosepimples, like Scotty Morrison on budget night, trying to slip in big bikkies for the big boys while offering peanuts to the punters and getting the thumbs up from Honest Malcolm. Time for me to dive into the Mardi Grass maelstorm with a somewhat clean, or at least less troubled conscience.
The rest, as they say, is history; or, to be honest, a kind of history skewered by the aforementioned CBD-THC debate and my vain attempts to seek a resolution by consuming sufficient amounts of both substances in various forms to broaden the scope of the survey and get a statistically more accurate per capita result (it’s no good if it’s not per capita).
Here are some random flashes, snatched from the fog and lassitude of homeostasis: Mardi Grass head honcho Michael Balderstone offering the police an olive branch at the opening protest at the start of the Mardi Grass on Friday morning; the two plainclothes narcs writing out a drug infringement for two young punters (the police would later turn a blind eye to people patently rolling joints at the cafes in town); Widjabul custodian Gilbert Laure lighting the ceremonial gum leaves at the sunset Welcome to Country; the monster drum and dance jam on the street on Friday night; meeting Mogz, muso couple Doug and Bikko’s confident, grown-up daughter, happy to be back in Nimbin again; meeting Greens MLC David Shoebridge in the Hemp Embassy; Adrian Burragubba, tradition owner opposing the Adani coal mine in Queensland, standing proud under the Aboriginal flag at the start of the Mardi Grass law reform rally and parade on Sunday; the always-awesome Ganja Faeries, doing their shimmering, gossamer-winged thing in the parade, casting choreographed insinuations of beauty and wellness over Nimbin’s streets; walking backwards in the parade myself, while attempting to play the bells attached to the drummers rig; the one speaker I caught after the parade, Nimbin’s original hippie Neil Pike, who advised all those smoking pot to ‘come out of the closet’ as pot smokers, just as gays had done to win their rights, took a crack at the random drug testing for being just that, random in its results, and held up a sign saying, ‘Eat mushrooms, they don’t test for that’; Bob Hopkins, the man who kicked off the first Nimbin Mardi Grass in 1993, still fitting into his Plantem suit from those halcyon days and looking like he’d never left Nimbin; the shining happy faces of the young, many of them at their first Mardi Grass; and, as always, the jams at the Oasis Cafe, especially on Sunday night with that young reggae band from somewhere in the hills.
There is magic in them rainbow-hued hills and Mardi Grass is the best time to catch it in Nimbin, in May, at the start of winter, blessed with glorious sunshine, with the ganja harvest in and everything in the air singing: Let it grow!
PS: The Russian Disco Babes did not make it this year, nor did the Mad Irishman. Perhaps it was the lambent sunshine, perhaps it was the double-strength herbs she was on for her menopause, but the Redhead was, uncharacteristically, on her best behaviour. The Date from Hell appeared in a blond wig, no doubt on the grounds that gentlemen preferred them, but there were none such around, except maybe the coca-leaf-cud-chewers, who couldn’t care less about women, with or without blond wigs (they were more concerned about getting picked up via the roadside drug test, now testing for cocaine as well). And one more thing; don’t tell them, but the Japanese health harpies were right after all about that CBD shite. But, fark it, THC is still irey!
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