Michael Balderstone, president of Australia’s HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) Party, has been involved in the hemp movement since the 1980s. He invited me down to MardiGrass in Nimbin, NSW again this year. Just after the 24th annual MardiGrass finished we sat down in the back of the Hemp Embassy and chatted.
MM: Nimbin, how did you get here?
MB: By car. But seriously I spent a decade wandering the world looking for a community of like-minded people. When I came back to Australia, I found that in Nimbin and just never left.
MM: Hemp, how did you get involved in hemp?
MB: When I came to live here [in Nimbin during the 1980’s] I started a secondhand store. It was mostly heroin addicts selling weed in the streets in those days — they would hide in the shop and shoot up. They taught me about prohibition.
MM: Who has had a big influence on you?
MB: Bob Hopkins. Before MardiGrass and the Hemp Embassy, which were his ideas, he changed his name legally to Prohibition End so it would show up on the ballot as “end, prohibition”. Back in the day he asked me to be his campaign manager, and then spokesperson, that’s how all this started for me.
MM: So you talk about your secondhand shop, when did the museum start?
MB: So I always called the secondhand shop the Nimbin Museum. After 7 years my relationship split up 🙁 and I could not keep up with the business of trading and selling secondhand stuff. We started getting more tourists, who wanted to know how Nimbin came about, so with artistic friends we turned the secondhand shop into a museum to try and explain hippie thinking to visitors.
MM: MardiGrass is huge and this was the 24th year you guys have put this on, how does this one compare to the first one?
MB: Increasing rules and regulations have made us get more organised to keep people off the street, deal with rubbish, provide toilets, and entertainment. There was only one policeman on duty for the first few, this time there must have been one hundred.
MM: What are your plans for the next MardiGrass (in 2017), anything special?
MB: I think particularly overseas speakers about what’s going on in other countries so that we can show politicians here how it is going elsewhere. I would like to see some more overseas information on marijuana and driving.
MM: Do you have any suggestions for those coming to MardiGrass 2017?
MB: Come early, like a week early if you can — avoid the saliva testing.
MM: You are the president of the HEMP Party, what does that mean for Australia?
MB: Well you can vote for us in an election, and it means Australia has a voice for cannabis users, and an online presence [for them], but also it gives isolated and scapegoated pot users the realization that they are not alone.
MM: How do you feel about the current medical marijuana program in Australia?
MB: Pathetic, and we are all concerned that the pharmaceutical industries are all over it.
MM: Is there anything you wish to share with our readers about your plans for the future?
MB: I think the Hemp Embassy is a good idea, and we could have embassies all over the place, looking after cannabis users and educating where there is ignorance. We know we are onto a winner, and it’s just a matter of time before the truth surfaces.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been copyedited for readability only; it maintains personal style and complete responses.