I watched drug dogs sniff luggage while departing the Sydney, Australia airport. I watched the same thing again on arrival at Los Angeles. They scour each bag, thrilled in the hope of a score that will produce some tasty treat from their handler. It's the War on Drugs!
In his best-selling book Breaking Rank, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper calls it this way: By any standard, the United States has lost its war on drugs...[it] has been a colossal mistake.
All which is an interesting counterpoint for my recent visit to the Australian town of Nimbin nestled in an ancient volcanic caldera in the north hinterland of New South Wales. Social planning expert Wendy Sarkissian hosted my visit to Nimbin and gave me a tour of this fascinating village of 400 surrounded by lush forests. Nimbin has for years been a haven for alternative lifestyle seekers such as dope-smoking, aging hippies, eco-conscious activists, and anarchists living amongst traditional village residents, retired professionals, and shop owners.
Nimbin is the site of a famous Mardi Gras music festival and numerous Cannabis Reform rallies. Some call it pot-head haven. Regardless, Nimbin is proud of its international reputation as an icon for alternative culture. Today it's among the most popular tourist sites in Australia attracting over 140,000 visitors.
I did see lots of dope smoking. What crime does that produce? The police told me some druggies hassle some tourists by trying to sell them pot. True, there were some assaults, but I was told that was mostly drunks outside drinking holes during closing time. It was not druggies shooting druggies (no one could remember a single shooting in Nimbin - ever). I got the impression that, compared to other similar villages, crime in Nimbin seemed no different than other small villages with a late night bar on the main drag.
What else comes out of Nimbin?
1. A cornucopia of cooperative communities within a 20 minute drive of the main drag. By some counts a hundred such places host over 10,000 residents. I visited a few and discovered they range from planned permaculture housing and affordable housing, to rural intentional communities with art, culture and healing.
2. Nimbin residents are remarkably active politically and environmentally. In 1979, in one of the first ever protests against over-logging rainforests, Nimbin environmental activists saved the Big Scrub rainforests of Terania Creek. That action resulted in the world's first legislation to protect rainforests.
3: Nimbin residents have their own hospital, a community center and free pool, community gardens, eco-education centers, houses with all forms of alternative power, dozens of thriving tourist shops, restaurants, a museum filled with hippy culture, and (naturally) the annual naked bike ride (I missed it).
Not bad for pot-head haven.
For me, Nimbin was a fascinating time-trip to the 60s. It's like, I suppose, Graceland for Elvis lovers, except much more amusing. Nimbinites (I have no idea if they call themselves that) also have a great sense of humor. ("The problem with the rat race is, even if you win, you're still a rat")
Are there some nasty drugs of choice that justify a War on Drugs? Are there a few truly dysfunctional places that can only be saved by such a war?
But from what I saw, Nimbin isn't one of them.