Helping out at MardiGrass – The Echo


David Heilpern is a retired NSW magistrate having served in regional and rural NSW for over 20 years. He is Assistant Professor and Professor at Southern Cross University and Director of Drive Change, an organization dedicated to law reform in the area of ​​drugged driving, with a particular focus on patients receiving prescribed cannabis.

In 1992 I traveled to Auschwitz concentration camp and it had a profound effect on me. I realized that when good people remain silent, evil has a much better chance of triumphing.

And so I became determined to speak out on important issues – one was the jailing of so many clients for growing cannabis.

I’m not saying the War on Drugs and the Holocaust are in the same league, just that the grave injustice in my face that is decimating our community was cannabis eradication helicopters.

Thus began my involvement with MardiGrass.

I spoke at the first rally in 1993 and there is a grainy recording of my brutal call to arms.

I had hair. I swore a lot. Twenty-nine years later, people are still dying in the endless political war on drugs. Sigh.


Next weekend, I brave the drug-driving lockdown and head back to Nimbin to speak again, like last year and every year in the 90s.

I won the bong tossing contest in 1995 and have been judging joint rolling for years which has been a highlight.

One year the winner was a helicopter, everything was made of joints and the rotors were spinning when the smoker sucked the tail.

There was a scandal when it was discovered that the roller was only 16 years old. (Whoops).

Some say MardiGrass just preaches to converts – maybe – I prefer to see it as rallying the troops. But what can I say that’s different, not just another Groundhog Day rant?


In the middle of the night, I had a eureka moment — I thought I’d make my speech more theatrical this year.

The first option I played with was to stand up, approach the microphone and say “Portugal”. And then sit down.

Twenty-two years after the decriminalization of all drugs there, this has led to a decrease in youth use, a reduction in overdoses and a decrease in drug-related crime.

There is no thought there to go back. We do not need more studies, research, debates and royal commissions. There is a living, breathing, gold-plated experiment called Portugal that undoubtedly proves the harm reduction law reform hypothesis.

Of course, the downside of the one-word speech concept is that people just walk away. And shamefully, my ego struggles with that.

I mean, I have an hour to be the center of attention and I just say a word?

The second option I considered was to drag a friend of mine who is bedridden and nearly dead to stage left – oxygen, medical team and all.

On the right of the stage is a person who smokes a joint.

Then the doctors could actually kill my mate with the euthanasia drugs, and after he sheds his mortal shell in front of everyone, I report that one of the two onstage activities is legal.

And we are not. It is legal to kill, but not to impregnate.

Pretty dramatic huh?

Mardi Gras! Photo tree fairy.

armless fun

Then the third option presented itself to me, which involved the same stoner on the left, but me with a desk and a chainsaw on the right.

If I start the chainsaw with both hands, but then put my left arm on the desk, I think I can run the chainsaw with my right hand and cut off my left arm completely.

Then, given my prediction that I would have the attention of the crowd, I would point out that my actions were completely legal, even potentially fatal, but that stoned smoker over there was committing an offense and could go to jail for two years.

Then we could move on to Q&A while I sewed it up.

And of course, cannabis being a panacea, I would recover quite quickly.

Drug laws are not, and never have been, about community safety or harm reduction.

They remain stupid and illogical.

They divert resources from real crimes like child molestation and domestic violence.

Maybe I could just replace Portugal with Thailand or the Australian Capital Territory, where common sense prevails?

Anyway, I chose option three. I added a few accessories like a bucket and earmuffs to comply with MardiGrass occupational health and safety rules.

BYO stomach

Come to MardiGrass and see if you have the stomach for it. Immediately after me is the Hemp Olympics, where you get tested for drugs and can’t compete unless you test positive for at least one banned substance.

The added bonus with option three is that it lends itself to possibly the best dad joke ever.

Keep in mind that a good dad joke has several essential elements.

First there is the pun, hopefully a double or even a triple whammy.

Second, it should be obvious and boring.

Third, it must be repeated – often and especially in enclosed spaces to avoid avoidance.

And finally, it must be said, not written, to make the most sense.

Why did the lawyer cut his limb at MardiGrass?

‘Arm reduction.

David Heilpern is a former magistrate and is Dean of Law at Southern Cross University.


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