Original article can be found here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-62261094
When a pink glow lit up the evening sky above an Australian town on Wednesday, local woman Tammy Szumowski wondered if the apocalypse had arrived.
“I was just being a cool, calm mum, telling the kids: ‘There’s nothing to worry about,'” she told the BBC.
“But in my head I’m like, what the hell is that?”
It turned out to be light emanating from a cannabis farm just outside the town of Mildura, in northern Victoria.
But like other stunned locals, Ms Szumowski’s mind initially went elsewhere – was it an alien invasion? An asteroid?
“Mum’s on the phone and Dad’s in the background going: ‘I better hurry up and eat my tea because the world’s ending.'”
“And Mum’s like: ‘What’s the point of eating your tea if the world’s ending?'”
Another local, Nikea Champion, first thought it was a really bright red Moon – before realising the light was originating from the ground.
“All these end of the world scenarios were going through my head,” she told the BBC.
“I was having a big Stranger Things moment – I’m like, Vecna? Is that you?” she said, referencing a villain from the TV series.
Both women – to their amusement – were wildly off base.
Secret farm exposed
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Australia in 2016, but recreational use of the drug is banned.
Since then, some 260,000 prescriptions have been approved by Australian regulators for a variety of illnesses.
The most common reason for the prescriptions was chronic pain, followed by anxiety and sleep disorders, according to data from the Australian Department of Health.
The number of prescriptions approved has doubled since 2019, with the majority of applications coming from the state of Queensland. But charges for possession remain high, with 71,151 people prosecuted for marijuana related crimes in 2018-19.
Few growing facilities exist and their locations are top secret for security reasons – but the cat’s out of the bag for this farm.
Reddish-tinged lights are used to help the crop grow. Usually, blackout blinds come down at dusk.
On Wednesday they didn’t work, a spokesman for manufacturer Cann Group revealed.
And because it was a cloudy night, the lights created a “sunset on steroids” that could be spotted almost an hour from the facility.
“I cracked up laughing… it could have been something so much cooler, but was just medical marijuana grow lights basically,” Ms Champion said.
Ms Szumowski said they had also “had a good laugh”.
Despite the initial panic, she was struck by the beauty of the light show: “I reckon it was great – they should do it more often.”
There has been a steady growth in the number of countries legalising the use of marijuana in some form since the turn of the millennium.
In the US, some 38 states have legalised the use of medical marijuana and around 48 million people used the drug in the US in 2019, according to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
The drug is also available for those with certain medical conditions in a number of EU countries, including France, Belgium and Ireland, as well as in New Zealand.
In some countries such as Canada possession and use of recreational cannabis is also legal.