Tourists in police drug net
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL and ZOE SATHERLEY
A DOZEN international tourists were caught with cannabis after police used a sniffer dog to search vehicles, including two tour buses, between Nimbin and Lismore.
Tourists from England, Canada, Ireland and Sweden were cautioned for possession of cannabis as part of the drug operation on Saturday afternoon.
Ten of the 12 people cautioned were travelling on tour buses that ran from Byron Bay to Nimbin.
The first bus searched was The Happy Coach, which was stopped about 2pm on Nimbin Road at Coffee Camp between Lismore and Nimbin.
The police sniffer dog from Sydney detected a small amount of cannabis being carried by two English backpackers on the bus.
"They were stunned and a bit shaken by the event," said tour operator Michael 'Fred' Forsyth.
"But they were quite relieved it was a caution."
Almost three hours later a second tour bus was pulled over in James Street, Dunoon, where another eight people were cautioned for cannabis possession.
Two other tourists, not on board buses, were also given cannabis cautions.
Snr Const Michael Hogan said many of the tourists had thought cannabis was legal in Australia.
"Those who knew it was illegal thought local authori- ties just turned a blind eye," he said.
"They were genuinely surprised at being pulled over by the police.
"Some of the travellers said they would have ended up in jail if this had happened in their own countries."
Snr Const Hogan said despite the results of the operation police were not targeting tourist coaches.
He said they had targeted traffic coming in and out of Nimbin.
The two buses just happened to be leaving town at the time of the operation.
Each of the tourists cautioned were interviewed by police who said they received a considerable amount of information about the identities of dealers and supply locations in the Nimbin area.
Insp David Larkin said police would be following up the leads given to them during the interviews.
"Due to the successful nature of the operation targeting the supply of prohibited drugs, police will continue to pursue drug detection by similar operations within the command," he said.
Police also searched a number of licensed premises within the Richmond Local Area Command at the weekend, but no-one else was cautioned or charged.
The sniffer dog, a black labrador, used in the operation has been sent back to Sydney.