nimbin weed

Nimbin Is No Longer Australia’s Weed Capital

Nimbin: home to the annual MardiGrass Festival and epicentre of Australian weed culture. Or at least, that’s what it used to be. Because as NSW Police crack down on growers, sellers, and smokers, Nimbin is becoming increasingly weed-free. And according to a report on Tuesday’s edition of SBS VICELAND’s The Feed, this is having a fairly dramatic effect on the town’s identity.

“So when I came here there was one cop in town,” explains Michael Balderstone who is president of Nimbin’s Hemp Embassy. “Back in those days it was just cool, it was no big deal, and the smart police were happy to leave pot alone.”

Michael goes on to explain that as property prices around Byron soared, a demographic with more cash and less time for drugs moved in. With them came more police, who imported Sydney’s zero-tolerance drug policy to Nimbin. And then things came to a head in 2016.

Ruben hanging in the lane

They came to be known as the “Lane Boys.” This was a collection of guys who were selling marijuana from a well-known laneway in town. More than 40 people were arrested during Strike Force Cuppa, which in June 2016 netted the police around a $1 million in drugs, cash, and guns, while scoring 11 young men an assortment of jail terms and suspended sentences.

“I only ever dealt marijuana,” explains one so-called Lane Boy named Ruben. “It was very extremely normalised… it’s like you grow up out west and your dad’s a sheep shearer, and you’d probably end up shearing sheep.”

Ruben—Like Michael from the Hemp Embassy—believed that weed was part of the region’s cultural fabric. He says he got into dealing because it was socially acceptable, which meant his drugs conviction came as something of a surprise.

Indeed, all of the boys’ drugs convictions were a first for Nimbin, and many felt that it was a case of the NSW Government drawing a line in the sand.

As Magistrate Alexander Mijovich said in court before sentencing: “Nimbin needs to grow up” and it’s not a “pocket of its own that’s not part of Australian law.”

In the year since, several people have been arrested in and around Nimbin during drug dog operations. Seven people were arrested back in April, just a week before the 2018 MardiGrass. “[It] was the perfect reminder of why we hold MardiGrass… Maybe that’s why they did it?” Michael Balderstone suggested to the Byron Echo.

The MardiGrass will continue into the foreseeable future but many locals say they’ve already noticed a shift. Because as Ruben observes, “If a tourist came to town now they’d probably be pretty disappointed.”

Watch the full report on The Feed right here on SBS VICELAND

Get a personalized roundup of VICE’s best stories in your inbox.

By signing up to the VICE newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.

With dozens of drug arrests in the last year alone, the town has become a pretty bad place to get high.


Nimbin: The weed capital of Australia

The colourful shops of Nimbin. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user jeffowenphotos

The New South Wales town of Nimbin is a throwback to the seventies, complete with brightly-painted buildings, scores of people wearing tie-dye, and shops full of hemp products, writes Kirrily Schwarz.

The first clue was the tour operator, who gleefully rubbed his hands together when I told him I was going to Nimbin.

“Ooh, naughty, naughty Nimbin,” he said with a thick British accent that made him sound like a character from Harry Potter.

It was my first trip to Byron Bay, a holiday town on the far north coast of New South Wales, and I was keen to check out the sights. I was trying to decide between kayaking with dolphins or horseback riding on the beach when someone suggested I take a day trip.

He said Nimbin was a cute town, with really amazing waterfalls along the way, and the tour included a barbecue lunch. For me, the equation is simple: waterfalls + food = yes please.


When the bus rolled up the next morning, decked in rainbow colours with Bob Marley thumping from the speakers, I wondered what I was getting myself into.

I clambered on board with a group of bubbly backpackers from Canada, the UK and China, and we merrily set about making friends as we set off.

About 90 minutes later, we cruised into Nimbin.

“Now, before you get off the bus,” the driver piped up with a sparkle in his eye, “I have to tell you that marijuana is illegal in the state of New South Wales. However, should you find any here, you need to be careful. It can be very strong.”

He proceeded to tell us a story about the time he had a tough, ex-army Israeli guy on board, who apparently believed there’s no such thing as being “too stoned”.

By midday, he was a mess.

Related articles

No weed pass, no cannabis, Dutch tell tourists

Jamaica: A holiday high point

Colorado airport’s ‘Pot Only’ waste bins

Sydney: Sing a song in Sydney

“He thought everyone on board was a Palestinian, and they were all trying to kill him,” the driver said wryly.

“He sat beside me and sobbed all the way home.”


Nimbin itself is a throwback to the seventies. It’s extremely small, with brightly-painted buildings, scores of people wearing tie-dye, and shops full of hemp products, handicrafts and art.

I wandered into one store where a brightly-dressed woman was sitting out the front.

“Let me know if you need any help,” she said, with a wave of her hand.

Tucked inside was a discreet piece of paper with the word “cookies” scrawled in pen.

“Um, thanks,” I said.

It’s hidden, but open at the same time.


T-shirts with cannabis leaves emblazoned on the front are for sale everywhere. There are posters on almost every power pole advocating for marijuana to be legalised. Some stores are filled with smoking paraphernalia. One shop explicitly asked patrons to avoid “stashing” on the back veranda, and there’s a “Hemp Embassy” in the main street.

The police station is at the end of the main street.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

Marijuana use and possession is illegal across Australia, but the penalties vary greatly from state to state. New South Wales and Victoria are moving toward legalisation of medical marijuana, which has proven to be effective in alleviating pain and conditions such as epilepsy. Minor offences have been decriminalised in the Northern Territory, ACT and South Australia. You might escape with a caution in Tasmania, but Western Australia takes a tough stance.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the active ingredient in cannabis. It can cause both euphoria and anxiety, as well as hallucinations in very high doses. It’s also addictive.

According to the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, it’s the most commonly used illicit substance in the country, with just under two million people taking it each year. Some studies, like this British one, actually suggest alcohol is more detrimental to health than pot.


For now, cannabis is a forbidden fruit.

According to the Australian Hemp Party, Australia wastes “millions of taxpayer dollars trying to enforce prohibition”, arguing that “a regulated market would redirect funding to eduction, health, and harm reduction”.

Curious, I visited the police station at Byron Bay to ask how it works. Clearly, they are aware of Nimbin and its naughty reputation. But do they do anything about it? Do they even care?

The female officer said: “Marijuana is illegal in the state of New South Wales”.

I pressed her, asking: “Yes, but how does it work in Nimbin?”

She looked me in the eye and repeated herself.


Obviously, she was in uniform and toeing the official line, but still. You can’t help but wonder.

Eventually, we boarded the bus and headed to the promised waterfall.

Minyon Falls is a 100m drop down a valley so steep you get vertigo from peering over the edge. When I turned to share my delight with my companions, they were already trudging back to the bus. Seizing the moment of solitude, I snapped some photos, and followed suit.

I know what you’re wondering.

Did I sample the famous cookies?

No, but the carrot cake on the main street is delicious.

The New South Wales town of Nimbin is a throwback to the seventies, complete with brightly-painted buildings, scores of people wearing tie-dye, and shops full of hemp products, writes Kirrily Schwarz.