It's harvest time in the Southern Hemisphere, which is a particularly satisfying period in the state of South Australia. While most of the country languishes under archaic drug laws, the Festival State decriminalized weed possession way back in 1987 (with the Australian Capital Territory following suit in 1993). There have been a few alterations to the law since, but SA is still Australia's most weed-friendly state.
I wanted to explore how these laws affect South Australian growers, so I headed to a Adelaide takeaway joint to meet Troy and Jake (not their real names). Jake is young and enthusiastic, with an encyclopedic knowledge of plant growth, the bio-dynamics of soil, the beauty of natural sustainability, and the benefits of fruit pulp as a fertilizer. He proudly shows me a bag of his crop: bristling, healthy buds of generic bag-seed that he's nurtured to be "as good as they can be." He shows me how it sticks to itself when it's ground up—a good sign.
SA's journey to decriminalization started in the 1970s. That was when cannabis use spread from hippies to the general population, causing many—and in New South Wales particularly—to argue the benefits of decriminalization. But in July 1977, a Griffith businessman and anti-marijuana crusader named Donald Mackay was brutally murdered in a hotel car park, and a subsequent Royal Commission recommended that the country wait ten years before considering decriminalization. The decade passed and the political climate for most of the country changed. But however unlikely, South Australia picked up right where they'd left off. Swayed by the potential cost savings in law enforcement, t he Cannabis Expiation Notice was introduced in April of 1987, and possessing weed was no longer a criminal act.
Over the following decade the number of South Australians who'd tried pot rose from 26 percent to 36 percent; similar increases were seen in states with tough prohibition laws. Today, statistics show that South Australians are no more likely to use marijuana than anyone else, while police haul in about the same as other states, but with fewer raids. The reason being that they're focusing on commercial crops.
It's important to note that South Australia isn't the pot utopia you might imagine. Possessing marijuana is still a crime; it's just that it's akin to a traffic violation. Of the 10,000 or so cannabis consumers the police interact with every year, 90 percent receive expiation notices and go on their way. Holding 25 grams attracts a fine of $150, which goes up to $300 for 100 grams (assuming you have no criminal record). Growers of up to five outdoor plants of unlimited size will meet a similar fate, which draws a line between those involved in trafficking, and those who share with friends.
Troy and Jake both belong to the latter category. Troy says he's been smoking weed since he was seven, and readily admits that he's abused the drug before. "I don't smoke, I don't drink. I don't even eat fast food. But I've been smoking weed almost my whole life."
The next day I join Troy, and his mate Ben, to harvest their indoor crops. They carefully trim away the larger leaves of their Super Skunk plants and separate each bud branch from the stem, hanging them on a clothesline where they'll dry over the next few days. Ben's plant has yielded about 11 ounces, while Troy grew a healthy seven because his garden pot was a bit smaller.
For Ben, growing is simply a way to save money that he can better put toward his family. At the rate he smokes, and because he gives so much away, this harvest will last him about a month. A sizable chunk of Troy's crop will go to his mom. He looks after her full-time and says that she sleeps better when her habitual jaw-clenching is subdued with weed vapor.
In some ways South Australia is behind the times, as exemplified when Adelaide went completely insane over the arrival of Krispy Kreme earlier this year. But in many regards the state is paving the way. Although abhorrent that it was ever necessary, South Australia was the first state to decriminalize some homosexual acts in 1971, followed by Victoria and the ACT five years later. For growers like Troy, Jake, and Ben, the state's relaxed attitudes to marijuana have kept them out of the criminal justice system. It's also helped others like them to eschew large-scale commercial plantations and their affiliated criminality. As Troy neatly summarized, "Everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone except for pricks."
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