WHEN Richard Branson and his son visited Byron Bay they did what some locals do every day -- rolled a joint and got high.
We had some nights where we laughed our heads off for eight hours, he told London's Sun newspaper in 2007.
Sam and I did have a lovely experience in Byron Bay. I don't think smoking the occasional spliff is all that wrong. I'd rather my son did it in front of me than behind closed doors.
Since the hippies arrived in the '70s northern NSW has been known for its alternative lifestyle and the drugs that go with it.
Back then it was mainly marijuana, however the region is now producing amphetamines and is leading the way in new techniques.
Earlier this year, police discovered Australia's first laboratory for making safrole oil, used to make MDMA or ecstasy, after smashing a major drug ring that was operating in the Tweed and Byron shires.
Last year, more than 53kg of illicit drugs, including 3500 cannabis plants, were confiscated in the Tweed-Byron Local Area Command.
Hauls such as that have seen the picturesque area sit in the top three places for drug detection in NSW for the past 10 years.
Despite these figures, the region until only recently has been without a dedicated drug unit.
Tweed MP Geoff Provest began calls for a drug unit late last year after claiming bikie clubs were using the Tweed to manufacture illegal drugs.
He said the Tweed's four bikie gangs -- the Finks, Rebels, Lone Wolves and Odin's Warriors -- were feeding the southeast Queensland drug market.
I know from talking to local officers that we have a serious local problem of outlaw motorcycle gangs manufacturing illegal drugs for distribution in the lucrative Gold Coast market, he said.
Mr Provest stepped up his campaign in February, saying criminals were going to extraordinary lengths to set up clandestine drug labs.
I've even had reported to me cases of them (criminals) renting out houseboats and parking in the river and setting up a lab in it, he said.
His claims were supported by NSW Police Association Tweed branch chairman Andrew Eppelstun. Of the 80 local area commands in NSW we consistently rank in the top five for possession and supply ... and this area is used for cook-ups in the manufacture process for the drugs that are ultimately destined for the Gold Coast, he said.
In April, the Tweed-Byron LAC finally got its drug unit with little fanfare.
The news was buried in a NSW police media press release after detectives seized dozens of cannabis plants and a quantity in plastic bags during a raid on a Mount Burrell property.
The drugs, worth more than $110,000, were headed to the infamous Nimbin Mardi Grass Festival.
The drug unit struck again in May, finding elaborate hydroponic cultivation equipment buried in a concrete bunker at Tumbulgum.
Detectives also found 319 cannabis plants, more than 170 cuttings and almost three and a half kilograms of cannabis heads.
The drugs had a total potential street value of $1 million.
Tweed-Byron crime manager Detective Inspector Shane Diehm said the Tweed-Byron drug unit was created due to the high volume of work in the command.
We saw the need for a drug squad so we formed it, he said. At this stage it's on a trial basis.
July 4th, 2010
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